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GIFT Tilapia: The Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia

GIFT Tilapia: The Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia

Tilapia is one of the most important fish species in aquaculture, providing an affordable and nutritious source of protein for millions of people worldwide. 

To help meet the growing demand for tilapia, a genetically improved strain known as GIFT (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia) was developed through selective breeding to revolutionize tilapia farming.

Many people think Tilapia is not a real fish because of the GIFT breed, but they are wrong.

Here is an overview of the development and impact of this remarkable fish.

Introduction to GIFT Tilapia

The GIFT strain, which stands for Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia, was developed in 1988 through a selective breeding program led by WorldFish and partners. 

The aim was to improve farmed tilapia’s genetic quality and productivity to benefit small-scale farmers and the aquaculture industry.

After nearly a decade of selective breeding and testing, the GIFT strain was released in 1997. It has since been distributed to over 12 countries and adopted by numerous tilapia hatcheries and farms. 

The creation of GIFT has been a breakthrough for tilapia aquaculture, boosting production and providing a sustainable livelihood for millions.

Development of GIFT Tilapia

GIFT was developed through selective breeding of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). The breeding program began in 1988 and was led by WorldFish in partnership with the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

The main objectives were to:

  • Improve growth rate and body weight
  • Enhance survival rate, especially under suboptimal farm conditions
  • Improve feed conversion efficiency
  • Develop tolerance to various farming systems and water conditions

Over multiple generations, the best-performing tilapia were selectively bred to incrementally improve the stock. After nearly a decade of breeding and testing, the genetically improved GIFT strain was born.

Characteristics of GIFT

The GIFT strain has several advantageous characteristics that make it well-suited for aquaculture, especially in developing countries:

  • Rapid growth: GIFT can reach up to 2-3 times the body weight of wild tilapia strains. It can reach harvest size (400-500g) after 4-5 months.
  • Disease resistance: GIFT has better tolerance to diseases like streptococcosis and tilapia lake virus.
  • Hardiness: GIFT can thrive in diverse environments and poor water conditions. It is resilient to stress.
  • Efficient feed conversion: GIFT makes excellent use of feeds, converting feed to body weight 40% more efficiently than other strains.
  • Good fillet yield: Up to 7% higher than wild tilapia. More edible meat per fish.
  • Versatile farming: GIFT can adapt to various farm systems like ponds, tanks, and cages.

These characteristics make GIFT ideal for the low-input farming conditions common in developing countries.

Impact of GIFT

The creation and dissemination of GIFT has had a tremendous impact on global aquaculture and small-scale farmers:

  • Increased productivity: GIFT boosts pond productivity by 30-40%. It produces 20-50% more harvestable weight than conventional strains.
  • Improved livelihoods: GIFT has been adopted by millions of small-scale farmers, providing them with a sustainable source of income, food, and nutrition security.
  • Affordable fish: The fast growth of GIFT has increased the fish supply, making tilapia more affordable for low-income consumers.
  • Food and nutrition: GIFT provides a rich source of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals to improve diets and health.
  • Climate resilience: The hardiness of GIFT helps farmers adapt to climate change impacts like temperature swings, droughts, and floods.
  • Women empowerment: GIFT farming has provided women with increased income opportunities and bargaining power in communities.
  • GIFT descendants: New GIFT descendant strains have been produced that are even faster growing and robust.

In summary, GIFT has been a breakthrough that has benefited millions of small-scale farmers and low-income consumers worldwide.

Future of GIFT

The development of GIFT technology is still ongoing through the GIFT Foundation International in Malaysia. Selective breeding continues to produce improved descendant strains of GIFT.

Significant efforts are also made to disseminate GIFT genetics and farming technologies to more smallholder farmers across Asia, Africa, and South America. This will help boost food and nutrition security in developing regions.

The genetic improvement techniques and selective breeding protocols developed through the GIFT project have also been applied to other fish species like carp and catfish. 

This has spawned new genetically improved strains for other essential aquaculture species that will continue benefiting small-scale farmers.

So, while GIFT tilapia has already made enormous contributions to global aquaculture, its future remains bright. 

Further refinements to the strain and dissemination of GIFT technology will ensure it continues to boost aquatic food production into the future sustainably.

Conclusion

The development of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) has been a remarkable genetic improvement success story. 

Through years of selective breeding, GIFT was developed to have superior traits like fast growth, disease resistance, and adaptability to diverse farming systems.

This has allowed the GIFT strain to thrive worldwide, vastly increasing tilapia production and profits for smallholder farmers. Millions of low-income consumers have also benefitted from improved access to affordable fish.

Going forward, GIFT technology will continue to provide sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers, nutritious food for consumers, and a solution for adapting aquaculture production to climate change. The GIFT strain is undoubtedly a genetically improved gift that keeps on giving.

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