KOPIA – Customized cross-border farming technologies to address poverty and rural challenges
KOPIA (Korea Program for International Cooperation in Agricultural Technology) is an innovative development cooperation platform that facilitates agricultural partnerships among partners and donors, where agricultural technologies can be efficiently scaled up and effectively commercialized. KOPIA consists of three pillars: to develop locally-customized farming technologies; to carry out pilot projects to demonstrate practical effectiveness; and to involve other donors for scaling up.
The KOPIA program aims to overcome low productivity and insufficient income of local farmers in partner countries by providing customized agri-technology developed jointly by RDA (the national agricultural research institution) experts and those in partner countries. The short-run objectives of the program in the short-run are to develop customized technologies and to identify the best means to apply them by assessing their practical usages via pilot projects carried out on local farms. Then, RDA invites other donors to assist in scaling up the results from the pilot projects in order to achieve the long-term goals of enhancing the productivity and income level of local farmers and their families.
The program launched its journey with 6 partners including Viet Nam in 2009, and has expanded to 22 countries, covering four geopolitical regions (i.e. 8 countries in Asia, 7 in Africa, 5 in Latin America, and 2 in CIS). RDA’s annual funding for the KOPIA program is US$ 8.57 million in total, or approx. US$ 0.4-0.5 million per country in 2021. The successful journey of the program in just over 10 years is largely given by its innovative nature described below:
1. Relevance and Effectiveness: KOPIA selects priority areas for technical development and pilot projects reflecting the partners' agricultural policy and strategy. Experts from the RDA and partner countries work together closely on site to develop customized technologies for the particular location. The practical usefulness of the developed technologies is then assessed via pilot projects, and all the results are well documented and evaluated for feedback.
2. Efficiency: KOPIA program is cost efficient as it reappoints RDA retirees with extensive field experience and takes advantage of existing research facilities in partner countries. This strategy enables KOPIA program to run with minimal HR and living expenses, and thus the RDA has expanded the program to 22 countries with a very limited budget of less than US$ 10 mil./annum.
3. Division of labor or Coherence: KOPIA program is designed especially for producing outcomes in agri-technology aspects, while inviting other donors for scaling up to other goals of SDGs (e.g. improving living standards) or spreading the results to other regions.
4. Impact and Sustainability: The program is run by RDA experts placed in a partner country’s public institutes on a permanent basis. The program is reviewed regularly to evaluate merits and demerits of the current projects and identify future projects to improve the short-term outcomes in terms of impact and sustainability. At the same time, KOPIA coordinators at RDA Headquarters analyse the results from all 22 programs and identify ways to enhance mutual benefits.
There is a broad spectrum of beneficiaries of the KOPIA program, ranging from local farmers and agriculture specialists, to researchers and policy makers in partner countries. The program can also be beneficial for other donors whose objective is to improve living standards of local farmers by simply integrating results to their program for scaling up or further improvement of the customized agri-technologies through applying their expertise. In fact, the KOPIA program has produced a variety of success stories and built rich field experiences through the implementation of a range of projects: quality seed production in Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, and Myanmar; seed potato production in Ecuador, Paraguay, and Pakistan; forage crop cultivation in Bolivia, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia; and improved poultry in Kenya and Senegal.
The efficacy of the program can be illustrated by a project carried out in Cambodia, where the KOPIA Cambodia Center launched a project on breeding maize varieties adapted to the local environments. Through a series of selection, breeding of superior inbred lines and testing of F1 seed productivity; finally, in 2020, the ‘CHM01’ variety was registered in the national variety list. During 2019 and 2020, the Center formed 53 maize experimental plots in 5 provinces with a total acreage of 74 ha, and piloted the variety with farmers. Harvesting time was accelerated by 10-15 days compared to conventional maize varieties, which also brings other advantages, such as preventing losses by rodents and avoiding labour shortages during harvest season. The farmers’ satisfaction was raised with the benefits of the new variety.
Although the KOPIA program has already been institutionalized by dispatching RDA experts and assistants to partner countries on a medium term (i.e. tenure of 3 years per expert) and rolling basis, the program can be more effective and sustainable if other bilateral and multilateral research institutions can participate in the initiative by sharing their know-hows, financial or in-kind support, or launching similar initiatives in other regions or partner countries. Thus, RDA eagerly invites other donors to the KOPIA platform.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The KOPIA program is innovative as its short-term goal is focused on the development of customized technology. Agri-technology developed by the program reflects the specific needs of partners as much as possible and has proven to result in productivity gains (Alignment and Effectiveness). Moreover, it is cheaper to implement sustainably as RDA retirees with extensive field experience are involved in this program (Efficiency). It is expected that the program will continue to become more effective and sustainable as it recently adopted Result Based Management more rigorously, and thus knowledge and experiences accumulated from KOPIA programs will be maintained and shared with others more systematically in the future.
What is the current status of your innovation?
KOPIA has continuously optimized its project implementation systems through numerous projects and 5-year evaluations:
Phase 1 (2009-2013): Seasoned experts were deployed to partner countries to work directly with local stakeholders. KOPIA experts gained greater understanding of local contexts, showing innovative leadership in diagnosing problems and recommending solutions.
Phase 2 (2014-2018): The program’s success stories with one partner have been proven again through replications in other countries and regions, targeting similar problems. Here, the assessment systems for new technologies was established, laying foundations for wider dissemination of results.
Phase 3 (2019-2023): KOPIA is inviting donors to spread achievements so that new technologies can play a role in addressing the underlying agricultural and rural challenges of partners. Here, an innovative platform for other donors was established, allowing KOPIA to share extensive experience and know-how from 22 countries.
Collaborations & Partnerships
KOPIA selects a project with the advisory committee and the partner implements the project with local farmers. It is part of the program to invite partners’ researchers and policy makers to share a vision, monitor the progress, and build friendly relations. Local researchers, with greater capacities in breeding through KOPIA developed locally-adapted varieties. Farmer leaders, who have been part of Korea’s agricultural development, also serve as catalysts for diffusing developed technologies.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
KOPIA has supported small-scale farmers, particularly women farmers and youth who have limited resources, built the capacities of local researchers through joint research work, helped policymakers make evidence-based policy built on its success models, and expanded value chains that directly and indirectly benefit retailers, distributors, and importers/exporters. Furthermore, Korean ODA agencies have incorporated KOPIA’s developed technologies into their projects.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
From 2009 to 2017, KOPIA’s production-inducing effect is worth US$99 million, which is nearly 1.7 times of its total budget spent during the same period (US$58.9 million). Considering its low investments, the program has been highly cost-effective. The figures, based on Project Design Matrix, were measured using the General Evaluation Matrix and the Determinants Analysis Matrix. The study collected country-specific and project-specific data from reports, field visits, and interviews with stakeholders to analyse the program’s inputs, outputs, outcomes, etc. The Sesame model village in Paraguay is a successful case. A study using the Diff-in-Diff method found that the project added US$760 in additional annual income to each participating farm household, and the cost-benefit ratio was 1.52, showing ‘value for money’. If project results including crop coverage can be scaled up through partnership with other ODA entities, it is expected to better address agricultural and rural challenges.
Challenges and Failures
Phase 1 (Development of Agri-Technology): Initially, the program focused on Korean vegetables, rice seed, and cultivation technologies, but was faced with adaptation issues due to different climates and diets. To respond to the needs of the partners, KOPIA switched to a new approach: to take into account local specifics including agricultural policy, environments, and diets when choosing a crop; and to crossbreed with native varieties for climate adaptation.
Phase 2 (Assessment of New Technology): The program could learn about specific needs and circumstances of the partner countries by working together with them on improving productivity of major food crops in a locally-adaptive way and developing cultivation technologies tailored to new varieties. Yet, applying proven agricultural technology alone cannot address the partners’ underlying agricultural and rural issues. Now KOPIA needs to engage collaborators in scaling up achievements and helping to resolve fundamental problems.
Conditions for Success
Leadership with expertise: the program is led by seasoned experts who made breakthroughs in agricultural technologies that made the Green and White Revolution happen amid Korea’s complex and challenging economic development.
Project implementation system: KOPIA has developed an orderly system from technology development and small-scale application to model villages, that helps put in place technologies and scale up achievements. The system ensures sustainability with flexibility that enables customized technologies to be continuously improved and expanded, bringing greater impacts.
Partnership: KOPIA should strengthen partnerships based on a more advanced version of RBM, and engage new partners in this development cooperation work, who can be part of scaling up achievements. Being connected with new development cooperation partners enables KOPIA to constantly improve and scale up locally-adapted technologies, which is key to empowering with new technologies and ensuring sustainability.
The same KOPIA project mechanism is applied in 22 countries. The same crop item is diffused to other regions within a country or other countries that have similar environmental conditions. To improve food crop quality, in particular, KOPIA has focused on the establishment of quality seed production systems, where partnering national research institutes manage foundation seed and registered seed and in turn, leading farmers produce certified seed to be disseminated to other farmers. In Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Paraguay, this underpins the countries’ sustainable and more productive agriculture. In the Philippines, the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs has replicated KOPIA’s quality rice seed production system on a larger scale and is sharing KOPIA's experience and know-how with the Ministry. RDA has a long list of applicants who wish to operate KOPIA in their countries.
The most fundamental lesson is that, the RDA, as an agricultural R&D institution, should focus on the areas where it has expertise and can produce good results, investing focused effort to develop better and appropriate technologies. The organisation has generated a variety of success stories by developing and assessing customized technologies, having achieved its short-term objectives. Over the course of implementation, the importance of empowering actors is emphasised, helping the organisation achieve better overall results in a more efficient, convenient, and sustainable manner. Based on KOPIA's revised philosophy, the team is now looking for other development cooperation agents who can contribute to scaling-up with funding, systems, and expertise. KOPIA is ready to share knowledge and know-how with more partners to reach its long-term goals: contributing to the UN SDGs.
RDA, the national agricultural research institution, has improved aid effectiveness through optimal division of labour in its specialized fields. It diagnoses needed areas and technological levels of partner countries, based on which tailored support is designed and provided. This mechanism enables the partner countries to bolster their capacities enough to sustain project outputs/outcomes themselves. For the last 12 years, KOPIA germinated the seeds of agricultural technology together with its partners’ local researchers and farmers.