The Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) Project launched in 1988 has created a massive impact. The keys to success are the right selection of specie, investment in R&D, successful dissemination and partnership strategy. Although challenges still lie ahead, the GIFT project undoubtedly opened up a path to fight the global hunger and poverty through aquaculture.
Since the Green Revolution took place in the 1970s, genetic improvement of plants and livestock has played an important role in eradicating global poverty and hunger. As fish accounts for 20 percent of animal protein intake in the poor countries, scientists started to apply these techniques on aquaculture at the same time. A series of research results showed the high potential of the genetic improvement of tilapia. In 1988, the WorldFish Center (at that time ICLARM) cooperated with the Norwegian Institute of Aquaculture Research (AKVAFORSK), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Philippines and two Universities in the Philippines, and launched the GIFT project. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided funding and technical assistance since the beginning, followed by other participant institutions.
The project conducted an extensive research on the genetic characters of the existing farming tilapia strains in the Philippines. By using selective and breeding and other genetic improvement technologies, the project bred a new strain and named it the GIFT fish.
By the end of donor support in 1997, GIFT project had selectively bred nine generations of fish. Each new generation is better in size, yield per year, surviving rates and other performance than the former one. The final result shows a 7.1 percent of genetic change and a 64 percent in growth in the Philippines. Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Vietnam were among the first countries to receive the fish seeds and technologies to replicate the GIFT farming model. The result was immense: 57.9 percent increase in average weight in Bangladesh, 17.5 percent in China and 32.3 percent in Thailand and Vietnam. The difference between the GIFT strain and non-GIFT strains is generally significant in different countries. According to Deb and Dev’s research in 2004, the GIFT project has a 70 percent rate of return.
In additions to the research and development of the tilapia strains, the GIFT project also focus on the dissemination. In order to cope with the rising demand followed by the technical breakthrough, the WorldFish Center initiated a channel in order to distribute the fish seeds and its technologies, mostly the ones developed by the GIFT. The International Network on Genetics in Aquaculture (INGA) was formed in 1993. INGA (replaced by GFII in 1997) continued the dissemination after GIFT project ended. By 2003, 13 countries had received tilapia germplasm through INGA, and 53 percent was GIFT strain. Chart 1 shows the destinations and fish...