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El Nino threatens to return this year

SINGAPORE: The El Nino weather pattern that can trigger drought in India and some parts of the world while causing flooding in other regions is increasingly likely to return this year, hitting production of key foods such as rice, wheat and sugar. 

El Nino, Spanish for 'boy', is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years, triggering changes in weather patterns in various parts of the world. 

For the Indian monsoon, the timing and strength of the potential El Nino would be crucial. If the phenomenon matures towards the end of the rainy season, it may not have a huge impact on the monsoon. Around 60% of all droughts in India the last 130 years have coincided with El Nino occurrence. 

While scientists are still debating the intensity of a potential El Nino, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology and the 
US Climate Prediction Center have warned of increased chances one will strike this year. 

Last month, the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization said there was an "enhanced possibility" of a weak El Nino by the middle of 2014. 

"The world is bracing for El Nino, which if confirmed, could wreak havoc on supply and cause prices of some commodities to shoot up," said Vanessa Tan, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore. 

Any disruption to supply would come as many crops have already been hit by adverse weather, with the northern hemisphere in the grip of a savage winter. 

The spectre of El Nino has driven global cocoa prices to 2-1/2 year peaks this month on fears that dry weather in the key growing regions of Africa and Asia would stoke a global deficit. Other agricultural commodities could follow that 
lead higher if El Nino conditions are confirmed. 

"Production estimates for several crops which are already under stress will have to be revised downwards," said Phillip Futures' Tan. "Wheat in Australia may be affected by El Nino and also sugar in India." 

In India, the world's No.2 producer of sugar, rice and wheat, a strong El Nino could reduce the monsoon rains that are key to its agriculture, curbing production. 

"If a strong El Nino occurs during the second half of the monsoon season, then it could adversely impact the production size of summer crops," said Sudhir Panwar, president of farmers' lobby group 
Kishan Jagriti Manch

El Nino in 2009 turned India's monsoon patchy, leading to the worst drought in nearly four decades and helping push global sugar prices to their highest in nearly 30 years. 

Elsewhere in Asia, which grows more than 90% of the world's rice and is its main producer of coffee and corn, a drought-inducing El Nino could hit crops in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China. 

And it could deal another blow to wheat production in Australia, the world's second-largest exporter of the grain, which has already been grappling with drought in the last few months. 

El Nino could also crimp supply of minerals such as 
goldnickeltincopper and coal if mines flood or logistics are disrupted. 

The Times of India (22-02-2014)