Korea plans to open more agricultural support centers in Africa to help countries in the continent bolster their rice production as Seoul is determined to raise the continent’s food sustainability and end chronic food shortages and starvation, according to the state-run agricultural research institute, Wednesday.

The Administrator of Rural Development Administration (RDA) Cho Chae-ho, left, talks to an African official during the 2024 Korea-Africa Agricultural Conference at The Plaza Hotel Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of RDA
The Administrator of Rural Development Administration (RDA) Cho Chae-ho, left, talks to an African official during the 2024 Korea-Africa Agricultural Conference at The Plaza Hotel Seoul, Wednesday. Courtesy of RDA

The Rural Development Administration (RDA) said it will expand its network of technical support centers across the continent by additionally opening offices in Cameroon and Tanzania.

“African nations have been increasingly inquiring about whether it’s possible to set up a new local KOPIA center in their countries,” RDA Administrator Cho Chae-ho said on the sidelines of the 2024 Korea-Africa Agricultural Conference in Seoul, referring to the Korean Partnership for Innovation of Agriculture. “Some 10 African nations have expressed hopes to work with us to improve their local agricultural capabilities. Such responses are fueling our roles further in Africa.”

Cho said that cooperation between Korea and Africa in developing agriculture is important for food security and economic development in Africa. He added that the conference will serve as a foundation for the continent’s sustainable agricultural development.

“I hope that the agricultural sectors of Korea and Africa will continue to develop together,” Cho said.

The event, hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, was joined by presidents of Comoros, Zimbabwe and Madagascar and ministers from nine other African nations who all arrived in Seoul days before to renew their diplomatic ties with Korea.

Kim Hwang-yong, the RDA’s director general for technology cooperation bureau, said that the RDA’s growing cooperation with African nations has become a model for economic growth and social stability to countries seeking strategic economic growth.

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“It remains our mission to lead our partner nations to sustainable, self-reliant agricultural development through developing new breeds of crops most suitable for their local soils, propagating those new crops throughout the continent and training local experts with technical support,” Kim said.

KOPIA

The RDA, a state-run research institute under the food ministry, has been investing in developing technologies and educating workforces to improve the agricultural industries for farming sectors in regions not necessarily limited to Korea.

KOPIA and its 22 centers worldwide well represent the agency’s diplomatic efforts. In Africa, its offices have been established in Kenya, Algeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Ghana. KOPIA centers in each country tackle local soils and natural environments to introduce new, most suitable breeds of rice, vegetables, fruits and livestock that produce high yields in as short a period as possible. The centers are driven by two goals: “no poverty” and “zero hunger.”

KOPIA Kenya Center has been transferring technologies for poultry and seed potatoes to local farmers since 2020. The technologies concern vaccination, feed formulation, disease-free seed potatoes and nematode control, having resulted in local farmers seeing increased revenues. In Ethiopia, KOPIA has provided 27 farms with poultry facilities and greenhouses and transferred modern agricultural technologies, enabling female farmers to improve their profitability. In Uganda, new water management technologies for orange farming allowed farms in Teso District to see orange production increase by 2.7 times despite drought, and their revenues have more than tripled.

Rice farms in Senegal and Ghana saw new rice seeds jointly developed by KOPIA and local researchers, and the new seeds, guaranteeing improved productivity, have been distributed to over 50 local farms in each country. In Zimbabwe, KOPIA Zimbabwe Center was behind introducing new maize varieties that are resilient against drought and launching its production over 100 hectares of farmland by 13 local farms.

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Kim said that KOPIA has set goals for rice yields in seven African countries until 2027. Under the campaign Rice Seed Production Improvement for Africa (RiceSPIA) and its activities based on technical training, equipment support and seed production management, the RDA aims to yield 2,400 tons of rice over 200 hectares of land in Ghana, 1,800 tons of rice over 150 hectares in Guinea and 1,680 tons of rice over 140 hectares in Uganda. Cameroon, Gambia, Senegal and Kenya are also targeted by RiceSPIA with different figures under the same goal.

“We began testing RiceSPIA in six African countries in 2023 with a goal of altogether yielding 2,040 tons of rice in the first year,” Kim said. “At the end of the year, we saw 2,321 tons, 14 percent more fruitful than the goal.”

Officials from the Rural Development Administration (RDA) and the government of Gambia check mature rice crops in Sapu, which were jointly developed by the RDA and the African nation, in December 2022. Courtesy of RDA
Officials from the Rural Development Administration (RDA) and the government of Gambia check mature rice crops in Sapu, which were jointly developed by the RDA and the African nation, in December 2022. Courtesy of RDA

KAFACI

On a separate track from KOPIA, the RDA and 21 African countries since 2010 have been cooperating under the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI), which develops agricultural technologies to address common issues in African agriculture by improving sustainability and resilience. The initiative has attracted 23 African countries and five international organizations, including AfricaRice, the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa and the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services.

KAFACI sets comprehensive goals for African nations, such as developing integrated management of fall armyworms, enhancing tomato and onion production for maximum yield, optimizing productivity of crop-livestock systems and training young Africans for agricultural work.

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The single most outstanding initiative tackled by KAFACI, according to Kim, is cross-breeding Africa’s local rice seeds with Korean rice seeds to create a variety of “super rice” for consumption among Africans. The RDA in 2017 established Africa-Korea Rice Breeding Laboratory, referred to as AKRiL, in Senegal and dispatched Korean experts there to work with researchers at AfricaRice in Ivory Coast.

Using the Tongil variety of Korean rice, the researchers cross-bred it with local rice seeds from various African nations. As of this year, the experiments have borne 26 new rice seeds in eight countries, including six new seeds in Senegal, five in Zambia and Ghana, three in Mali and Rwanda and two in Malawi. Among the new seeds, ISRIZ-16 and ISRIZ-17 from Senegal and CRI-Korea Mo from Ghana produce the highest yields with 9 tons per hectare.

“KAFACI’s partnership with AfriceRice has also led to cross-breeding Korean Japonica rice with African varieties through a breeding period shortened to 3 to 5 years from 10 to 15 years, having developed five high-yielding varieties and registered them in three African countries,” Kim said. “The new varieties’ high yields and quality directly benefit local farmers, consumers, retailers and policymakers.”

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