Altering root morphology of rice (Oryza sativa L.) cultivars could improve yields in drought-prone upland ecosystems. Marker-assisted backcross breeding was used to introgress four QTLs for root traits into an upland rice cultivar. The QTLs had previously been identified under experimental conditions in a different genetic background. The introgressed lines and the recurrent parent were grown for 6 years by resource-poor farmers in upland sites in Eastern India and yields recorded. In combination the QTLs significantly increased yield by 1 t ha−1 under relatively favourable field conditions. In less favourable trials, the QTL effects were not detected due to greater heterogeneity in soil–water availability in very low yielding environments and consequent yield variability. Root studies under controlled conditions showed that lines with the introgressions had longer roots throughout tillering than the recurrent parent (14 cm longer 2 weeks after sowing). Therefore, both improved roots and increased yield can be attributed to the introgression of QTLs. This is the first demonstration that marker-assisted backcross breeding (MABC) to introgress multiple root QTLs identified under controlled conditions is an effective strategy to improve farmers’ yields of upland rice.