NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Monsoon rainfall was 41 percent below average for the week ended July 9, the weather office said on its website on Thursday, the fifth straight week of poor rains after a late start to the season.

A poor monsoon season cuts exports, stokes food inflation and leads to lower demand for industries ranging from cars to consumer goods, while even a slow start can delay exports of some crops and increase the need for imports.

Rainfall was 53 percent below average in the previous week as the first month of the June-September rain season was the weakest in five years.

The seasonal deficiency stood at 43 percent below average even after the gap shrank last week due to marginal improvement in rainfall in some areas of central and north India.

Last week, rains occurred in many parts of soybean areas of central region and cane areas of north region, but the downpours were far less than averages. Weather officials said a cyclone 'Nanauk' over the Arabian Sea delayed progress of the annual rains towards the central and north regions, causing a huge gap in the seasonal downpours.

"Lull in monsoon continues though rainfall activities are expected to improve in the next two to three days," said D.S. Pai, lead forecaster of the Indian weather office. India, one of the world's top producers and consumers of rice, corn, cooking oil, sugar and cotton, relies heavily on the summer rains as nearly half of its farmland is rain-fed.

The farm sector accounts for around 14 percent of its nearly $2 trillion economy, and two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population live in rural areas.

This year, monsoon arrived five days late on the Kerala coast, and then covered half of India four days later than the usual date of June 15.


(Reporting by Ratnajyoti Dutta; editing by William Hardy)