Enhancing rice yield in upland rice systems through genetic improvement remains a major challenge in the tropics. This review aims to provide the trends on upland rice cultivation over the last 30 years and recent distribution of upland rice in the tropics, and to report progress in studies on genetic improvement for enhancing productivity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While upland rice cultivation area has reduced in Asia and Latin America over the last 30 years, the area in Africa has increased. The current share of upland rice area in total rice area is related to rainfall and gross national income per capita, especially in Africa, and higher share is associated with lower rice self-sufficiency at national level. Breeding programs in Asia and Latin America have developed high-yielding varieties using indica materials as parents. In Africa, New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties were developed from crosses between improved tropical japonica and Oryza glaberrima. However, recent studies report that there is scope for improving existing NERICA using upland indica materials from Asia. In highlands of Africa, there are ongoing breeding programs using japonica varieties, such as the Nepalese Chhomrong Dhan. Key important plant traits used in the breeding programs are not largely different across regions, especially intermediate plant height and tillering capacity (which may be related to weed-suppressive ability), and high harvest index. In conclusion, we propose an international network for breeding upland rice with accelerating seed exchange across regions that could enhance upland rice productivity through genetic improvement.