Africa hopes to plug gaps in its weather and climate data by mounting automatic weather stations onto its extensive network of mobile phone masts.
Less than 200 of its weather stations meet UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) standards — compared to several thousand in Europe — leaving many smallholder farmers without forecasts.
The vast majority of farmers in Africa practise rain-fed agriculture, leaving them highly vulnerable to shifts in weather and climate patterns.
'Weather Info for All', a public–private partnership involving the WMO, humanitarian groups and telecommunications companies, will gather data on wind, rainfall and other aspects of weather and send it to national weather agencies.
So far, the project has installed 19 stations in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Five thousand stations could be established if Africa's mobile phone companies are willing to get involved.
The eventual aim is to disseminate weather information via mobile phones to Africa's remotest communities.
"Today you find cell phone towers in almost every part of Africa. We have never been able to establish weather monitoring on that scale, until now," says former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Jeffrey Sachs, head of Columbia University's Earth Institute, a partner in the scheme, says that the data would benefit everyone from national policymakers to smallholder farmers.