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India offers farmers support after weak monsoon

NEW DELHI, Jul 31  – India on Tuesday offered cash and subsidies to tens of millions of farmers affected by poor monsoon rains over almost half of the country.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar stopped short of declaring a drought in 306 of India’s 620 districts where the first half of India’s crucial June-September monsoon season has produced deficit rainfalls.

“It is for state governments to declare drought,” Pawar told reporters after a ministerial group announced a series of support measures including diesel subsidies, compensation to farmers for re-sowing and tax waivers.

The monsoon rains are dubbed the “economic lifeline” of India, which is one of the world’s leading producers of rice, sugar, wheat and cotton.

“There will be some setbacks, but if the final monsoon is alright then we will be able to take some corrective steps,” Pawar said.

“Wheat and rice stocks are quite comfortable but there would be some shortages in cereals,” he added.

Agriculture contributes about 15 percent to India’s gross domestic product but only 40 percent of farms are irrigated.

A drought in 2009 — the worst in nearly four decades — resulted in a surge in food prices.

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