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Big steps towards innovation-driven food security in Africa

Korea-Africa Breeding Lab in AfricaRice, Senegal

KAFACI and AfricaRice jointly developed the Africa Rice Development Partnership project to increase rice productivity in Africa. Using modern breeding technology that shortens the breeding period from 10-15 years to 3-5 years, and by crossing Korean Japonica rice with African varieties, five high-yielding varieties were developed and registered in three countries. The newly released varieties directly benefited farmers, consumers, retailers and policy-makers due to their high yield and quality.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Despite the increase in the annual production of rice in many African countries over the last decade, rice consumption in Africa continues to rise faster than local production due to urbanization, changes in consumer preferences, and rapid population growth. This led to a massive increase in rice importation every year. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), African rice imports have increased from 9.62 to 17 million tons from 2010 to 2019, and are predicted to increase to 29 million tons by 2028. Thus, transformational changes are needed to bolster local production to levels that will significantly reduce importation.

Considering this situation, the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI) of the Korean Rural Development Administration (RDA) and Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) jointly initiated the Rice Development Partnership Project with ambitious objectives of raising rice production and taste by crossing among African and Korean varieties; These will contribute innovatively to achieving the UN's SDG 2 of zero Hunger.

The objectives of the Rice Development Partnership Project were as follows:
1. Broaden the African rice gene pool with high-yield and quality traits from Korean rice germplasm;
2. Enhance the rice breeding capacity of National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) in African countries; and
3. Develop and disseminate 55 improved rice varieties in Africa by 2025

To coordinate and carry out the project, the KAFACI dispatched a breeding expert in the AfricaRice Center in Senegal. He set up a modern breeding laboratory and developed 52,355 lines using Korean rice varieties with high-yielding and early-maturing and African germplasms. Anther culture techniques for rapid breeding line generation were applied to dramatically shorten the breeding period and process from 10-15 to 3-5 years. Of the 52,355 lines developed and tested in the field, experts from 19 African countries, who were trained through several breeding workshops, selected 1,347 promising ones.
Enhancing the rice breeding capacity of the National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) is an integral part of the project’s success. The breeding capacity greatly differs among the NARIs and a cooperative breeding network among African countries is urgently required to enable the public rice breeding sectors to activate their programs by exchanging germplasm, expertise on breeding, personnel, and information, etc.
To overcome these weaknesses, the KAFACI and AfricaRice intensively trained and transferred modern skills to breeders and technicians of the NARIs through a four-month-long training workshop. Technologies and capacities transferred include breeding theory, seed preparation, selection of promising lines, harvest, etc. These skills should be also valuable in assessing the qualities and adaptation of new rice varieties to local environmental conditions of each participating country. After evaluation, Senegal, Mali, and Malawi registered five new varieties with a high average yield of 7.0 t/ha compared to the 2.2 t/ha in Africa and 4.5 t/ha in the world. The dramatic high-yielding rice production is paramount for the innovation to affect many sectors in African countries. For example, Senegalese farmers are fully satisfied with new varieties that have higher yield than their local varieties as this translates to higher income. Consumers prefer new varieties to local ones because they taste good, digest well, and are easy to cook. Two varieties registered in Senegal—ISRIZ 6 and ISRIZ 7, were included in the National Rice Self-Sufficiency Plan. Selected due to their high quantity and quality, the varieties will cover 16 % of the plan.
To expand the innovation rapidly, it is important to consider establishing a public multiplication and supply system of seeds that disseminates new varieties to farmers in a manageable way. Once registered in each country, new varieties have to be multiplied in large quantities and be supplied to farmers. Public sector will have to identify quality and yield to strive for their standardization and quality improvement. With this in mind, KAFACI, in 2020, started a small pilot research study that aims to prepare the system for mass-producing and supply seeds of consistent quality and yields. Initially implemented with the cooperation of 13 African countries, the study, upon success later, will be expanded to other African countries. The first model study was launched in Senegal in 2021.
The production of high quality rice requires improved farmland and irrigation facilities. This aspect will be negotiated with policy makers of respective countries and Korea Rural Community Cooperation. As a way forward to solving chronic food shortage in Africa, new rice varieties that are resistant to drought, salinity, and pests will be also developed.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The Rice Development Partnership Project resulted in the rapid registration of new rice varieties in Africa that brought about by the following innovations: 1) it has drastically shortened the time and process required for rice breeding from the traditional 10-15 years to 3-5 years using the anther culture method. 2) the exchange of germplasm among African countries and Korea has produced the ideal breeding materials by crossing Korean Japonica rice and elite African varieties. Korean Japonica brings desirable characteristics such as high yield potential and soft cooking especially when cooled. 3) it has strengthened the rice breeding capacity of the National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) in African countries. Theories and practical skills of the entire breeding process from seed preparation to selection were transferred to four batches of breeders and breeding technicians who conducted the National Performance Tests (NPT) for elite lines adapted to local ecologies of rice.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The average rice yield in Africa is 2.2 t/ha which is low in comparison with the growing regional demand. To minimize the gap between regional supply and demand, the project was implemented in three phases. The first phase (completed) focused on laying the foundation for the project’s promotion by developing rice varieties, establishing a cooperative network, installing research facilities, and nurturing breeding personnel. Five new rice varieties with an average yield of 7.0 t/ha have been developed and released in Senegal, Mali, and Malawi. The Senegalese ones are gaining popularity among farmers because of their high productivity and consumers’ appreciation for their good taste. In the second phase (in progress), the development and registration of new rice varieties for high yield are further accelerated. The direction of the project is also expanded to develop early maturing new varieties that are resistant to drought, salinity, and pests according to local ecology.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The Rice Development Partnership Project was launched in cooperation between KAFACI and AfricaRice for the rapid development and spread of high-yielding quality rice varieties in Africa. KAFACI dispatched breeding experts to the AfricaRice Center in Senegal to set up and operate the modern breeding laboratory and carry out the project. AfricaRice, meanwhile, provided rice fields and built up connections between KAFACI and African countries, which are vital in reinforcing project implementation.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The project has contributed to reducing the rice supply and demand gap in Africa, especially in Senegal, where newly registered varieties are targeted to cover 16% of the National Rice Self-Sufficiency Plan. Farmers are satisfied with a twice higher yield of new rice varieties comparing to local varieties. Consumers prefer new varieties to local ones because they taste good, digest well, and are easy to cook. Rice retailers also attained a 14% higher profit by selling the new variety.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Five excellent rice varieties were developed and registered in Senegal, Mali, and Malawi with an average yield of 7.0 t/ha compared to 2.2 t/ha in Africa and 4.5 t/ha worldwide. The Senegalese varieties were included in the National Rice Self-Sufficiency Plan due to high quantity and quality. The capacity of African rice breeders has been enhanced through breeding training. The project's satisfaction survey reveals an average of 93.4% over three years. Principal investigators' evaluation indicates that the project has a strong sustainability plan, efficient implementation mode, and relevance to the country’s goals. The Director-General of AfricaRice said, “this project is significantly contributing to powering a quiet rice revolution in Africa". By the end of this project by 2025, a total of 55 varieties will be registered and disseminated, with the aim to increase African rice productivity to 25%, which will contribute to the UN's SDG 2 of Zero Hunger by 2030.

Challenges and Failures

Among many constraints, the most serious is the lack of competencies to develop and disseminate suitable rice varieties and cultivation technologies in the countries' public sector. This is followed by poor agricultural facilities and equipment and differences in working culture. To overcome these and improve the rice breeding capacity of national programs, KAFACI dispatched breeding experts to AfricaRice and pushed for intensive breeding training courses to build the capacities needed at each country’s level. KAFACI also led the exchange of germplasm among Africa countries and Korea to broaden the former’s gene pool. Due to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in 2020, the holding of the Variety Registration Committee was canceled–thereby delaying the registration of the varieties. Discussions with policy-makers of each country are being done in order to hold the variety registration committee as soon as possible.

Conditions for Success

For the innovation to be successful, it was of utmost importance to strengthen the breeding capabilities of NARIs in African countries. KAFACI has provided intensive training for breeders and technicians of member countries. Also, the application of new breeding technology that innovatively shortened the traditional breeding period and process, and the exchange of genetic resources among African countries and Korea, which were highly strategic, were paramount innovations. Strong consistency and commitment in pursuing the project are essential conditions for success in both KAFACI and recipient African countries. As is the case with Korean experts and breeders participating in the project sharing and solving the problems they faced using SNS. Finally, it is also necessary to improve countries’ farmland and irrigation facilities and establish a national seed multiplication and distribution system led by governments to be able to supply high-quality seeds to farmers seamlessly.


This project, conducted in collective and cooperative manners with 19 African countries could have an impact on other countries facing food shortages due to low agricultural productivity. From the viewpoint of the project's design and implementation processes, replication potential would be increased if experiences obtained through cooperation with African people and authorities were properly applied. To improve rice productivity, specific conditions for successful replication are as follows: 1. national breeding capabilities should be enhanced by sharing expert’s experiences, knowledge, and training; 2. the superior germplasms would be secured to produce elite lines for variety registration by exchanging germplasms among countries participating in the project; and 3. policy-makers' support is needed to improve farmland and expand irrigation facilities for rice cultivation and to operate national seed multiplication and distribution systems to provide quality seeds to farmers.

Lessons Learned

Standardized indicators are a prerequisite for a cooperative and coordinated implementation of an international project. Without a detailed project information and data gathering system, participating countries may face difficulties in project processes and thereby influence outcomes. Similar events happened in the current project. All 19 participating NARIs received the same number of promising lines of rice to perform the NPT for varietal release in each country. They all participated in the four-month intensive breeding training and the workshops to regularly monitor their progress, share information obtained by similar projects, and refine results and impacts. However, when the first phase of the project was completed, the results differed greatly from one country to another. While the new varieties were registered in some countries, elite lines disseminated to advance NPT were lost in others.

Anything Else?

Inaugurated in July 2010 with 16 African countries and the Republic of Korea, the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI) is currently composed of 23 countries. It aims to promote sustainable agricultural green growth in the African region to eradicate poverty and starvation, and contribute to consistent economic development in the member countries through technological cooperation in the agricultural and food sector.
Over the past 10 years, KAFACI has conducted 14 projects including the AfricaRice Development Partnership. Through the Rural Development Administration (RDA), Korea is sharing its agricultural technology knowledge and experience with the member countries through various research projects to solve common agricultural challenges faced by African countries such as integrated pest management of fall armyworm.

Supporting Videos

Year: 2020
Level of Government: National/Federal government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

3 September 2021

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