India's crucial monsoon rains were again below average last week and failed to cover as much of the country as they should have, the weather office said on its website, fanning concerns over output of key crops despite reassurances from weather officials.
In the week ending June 27, the fourth week of the season which provides the only water for 55 percent of arable land, rains were 18 percent below average, reflecting a lull phase over oilseed-growing areas of central India.
India is sticking to its forecast for an average monsoon this year despite a slow start, as July and August provide the majority of rainfall, helping to moisten the earth for sowing and mature planted crops.
"Monsoon rains are less than normal, but can still make up the deficit in next 10-15 days," said M. Rajeevan, a senior scientist at the ministry of earth sciences.
Rains so far from June 1 have been 23 percent below average, compared with 10.7 percent above average in June 1-29 last year. They picked up in the week to June 20 to be just five percent below average, helping sowing in some areas.
"If the lull phase continues for another 15 days, then we should be worried, but not now," said Rajeevan, a former lead forecaster of the Indian weather office.
The farm sector accounts for about 15 percent of a nearly $2-trillion economy, Asia's third-biggest, and good harvests boost rural incomes and consequently demand for gold and consumer goods.
Farm officials said rains in the past week were above average over the rice growing pockets of eastern India.
"Rice areas of eastern India received adequate rains in the past week," said A.K. Singh, deputy director-general of the state-run Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
Rice, the main food crop of the world's second populous country, shares about 70 percent of the total grains output in the summer season.
Weather officials said the rains were expected to improve next week.
"We expect monsoon to progress further deep into central India and also towards north India during next week," said a senior official at the India Meteorological Department.
The weather office had already forecast an average rains in the key planting month of July, when rains should spread to the entire country. The rainfall then is key to the growth of summer crops such as rice, corn, cane, oilseeds and cotton.