NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's weather office said on Thursday it expects monsoon rains to hit the southern Kerala coast around May 30, a timely arrival for farmers worried about dry weather from an El Nino weather pattern this year.
The June-September monsoon season is vital for India as half its croplands lack irrigation, but a forecast of less rain than usual due to the emergence of the El Nino has threatened to worsen rural distress.
For millions of farmers whose winter-sown crops were damaged by unseasonal rains in February and March, the India Meteorological Department's (IMD) prediction of a timely start to the monsoon may help them plan their sowing better.
IMD considers a June 1 arrival as normal. Last year the annual rains hit the Kerala coast on June 6, leading to deficient rains that trimmed grain output.
"A timely onset of monsoon will help ease threats of El Nino from the minds of farmers to some extent," said Sudhir Panwar, chief of farmers' lobby group Kisan Jagriti Manch. "This could also lead to timely sowing of summer crops."
The El Nino, or a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, brought the worst drought in four decades to India in 2009. A repeat could severely hit farming, which accounts for 15 percent of the country's $2 trillion economy and supports two-thirds of its 1.25 billion population.
Any surge in food prices could fuel inflation and dent Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity in the countryside.
"There are instances in the past when the monsoon onset took place much ahead of the normal date but the season turned out to be dry as happened in 2009," IMD's chief forecaster D.S. Pai told Reuters.
Below is a table on forecast and actual arrival dates for monsoon for the last ten years.
2005 10-Jun 7-Jun
2006 30-May 26-May
2007 24-May 28-May
2008 29-May 31-May
2009 26-May 23-May
2010 30-May 31-May
2011 31-May 29-May
2012 1-Jun 5-Jun
2013 3-Jun 1-Jun
2014 5-Jun 6-Jun
Editing by Krishna Das and David Clarke