Monsoon hits India’s southwest coast

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, May 31, 2008 (AFP) – The first rain from India’s annual monsoon, crucial to millions of farmers and the health of the overall economy, hit the southwest coast on Saturday. The southwest monsoon sweeps the subcontinent from June to September and is an economic lifeline for the 235 million farmers in India where just 40 percent of arable land is irrigated.

“The southwest monsoon has reached Kerala and the state has got widespread rainfall,” M.D. Ramachandran, director of the Indian Meteorological Department’s office in Kerala state capital Thiruvananthapuram, told AFP.

The strong, sometimes violent downpours account for around 80 percent of the country’s annual rainfall, vital for the farm economy of India, the world’s second biggest grower of wheat and rice.

Earlier weather officials had forecast the monsoon was likely to hit the country slightly early on May 29. Normally, it is expected on June 1.

The agriculture sector employs some 60 percent of the Indian workforce and generates around a fifth of India’s gross domestic product.

This year’s monsoon is being keenly watched by the Congress-led government which is battling inflation running at near f