By Ratnajyoti Dutta
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's monsoon rains will be weak next week, weather officials said on Thursday, giving relief to cane- and rice-growing areas of northern and eastern regions that were recently hit by floods.
The annual rains are vital, because over half of India's farmlands lack irrigation, and the farm sector accounts for 14 percent of the national economy.
The monsoon is the leading determinant of rural spending on consumer goods ranging from lipstick to cars as two-thirds of its 1.2 billion people live in villages.
In India, the monsoon has been weak for the past two weeks, but that is unlikely to cut output prospects for summer crops such as rice, corn, soybean, cane and cotton, because these crops have entered the germination stage, when less rain is required.
"Soybean has entered the initial growth stage when it does not need heavy rains, but requires intermittent rains for a healthy growth," S.K. Srivastava, head of the state-run Directorate of Soybean Research, told Reuters over the phone from Indore.
Soybean-growing areas of central India now need rain at intervals.
"A prolonged dry spell until next week would be harmful for the planted soybean crop," Srivastava said.
Most of the summer crops, except late-sown rice varieties in some parts of the northwest region, have entered the growing stage and need moderate rain to ensure good yields.
"Cane is still in good condition in Maharashtra despite the weak monsoon, except Marathwada belt where the crop has been hit by drought," said Raju Shetti, head of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana, a farmers' lobby group from Maharashtra, the leading sugar producing state of India.
Weather officials forecast less rain in flood-hit areas of North India next week, while the monsoon is expected to be poor over the cotton and oilseed belts of western region.
"The weak phase is expected to spill over to the next week," said D.S. Pai, the lead forecaster of the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
"We expect a wet run from late August to early September," Pai said from Pune.
Floods are expected to ease as the weather office forecast poor rain over the northern region until the middle of next week.
Last week's heavy showers in the Himalayas inundated nearly 1,500 villages in northern India, killing 80 people and leaving thousands homeless, according to the latest official updates.
An official at the National Disaster Management Authority said there had been 10 deaths in Bihar due to floods, caused by overflowing rivers in Nepal.
On Friday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh will make an aerial review of the flood situation in the worst affected areas of Uttar Pradesh, the top producer of cane in India, the world's second-biggest producer after Brazil.
Experts said last week's flash floods over northern Uttar Pradesh state could affect growth of rice and cane crops in the Himalayan foothills.
But sugar output is unlikely to decline drastically despite floods in the north and drought in western regions as production is expected to improve in South India.
(Additional reporting by Sharat Pradhan in LUCKNOW; editing by Jane Baird)