The first-ever shipment of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) seed has been transferred from Malaysia to Myanmar to help boost small-scale aquaculture production

In Myanmar, aquaculture is capable of generating higher farm incomes than almost any other form of agriculture, making it an attractive option for rural farm households.

Currently, more than 200,000 people are engaged in aquaculture, with the indigenous carp, rohu, representing 70% of production. Yet production of the fast-growing and hardy tilapia species is low, despite its ability to adapt to diverse environments, which makes it ideal for small and medium-scale fish farmers in developing countries.

Development of tilapia farming in Myanmar has been constrained by the lack of access to quality seed. Small-scale farmers often use poor quality seed from the wild or buy seed from government or private hatcheries, but this seed has low productivity due to poor management of the genetic resource.

A farmer tending his small scale aquaculture pond, Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar. Photo by Toby Johnson

To help develop small-scale farming of tilapia, for both domestic consumption and international fry dissemination, WorldFish has provided quality seed of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) to the Department of Fisheries (DoF) in Myanmar. GIFT is an improved strain of Nile tilapia that grows more than 30 percent faster and has a higher survival rate than other strains.

Now, the Myanmar Government, with technical support from WorldFish as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH), will raise the new GIFT seed into brood, breed the brood and produce seed.

This work is part of the LIFT-funded Promoting the sustainable growth of aquaculture in Myanmar (MYFC) project, which aims to increase incomes, food security and nutrition of the resource-poor through promoting small-scale aquaculture systems.

Shipping GIFT fry from Malaysia to Myanmar

The first-ever shipment of GIFT from Jitra research station in Malaysia, home of WorldFish’s GIFT breeding program, to Myanmar consisted of 3200 fry and took place in August 2016.

Transferring the seed was a multi-step process that started three days before shipping, when the fish stopped being fed. This ensured that the fish didn’t defecate and dirty their water during transport, which can make them stressed.

GIFT tanks at Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016

On 23 August, the day of the shipping, the GIFT fry were counted and individually checked to be in good health, before being put into big double-layer plastic bags filled with water. The bags had an in-between newspaper lining which, if it became wet, showed any leaks.

Workers at Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016 GIFT fry at Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016. Counting GIFT fry, Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016
Counting GIFT fry, Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.

Each bag, containing 100 fry, was filled with oxygen, securely sealed, placed into a styrofoam box and then a cardboard box. The boxes, labeled with “live fish”, were numbered and taped shut, ready to be taken to the airport. The packing process was done quickly, completed by 12 people in less than two hours.

Worker at Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.
Filling bag with air, Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016. Packing box of GIFT fry, Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.
Live fish box, Jitra, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.

At Alor Setar airport, a 20-minute drive from Jitra station, customs officers and airport police inspected the boxes and provided the necessary security clearance. The 16 boxes were flown to Kuala Lumpur at 8pm, and then to Yangon International Airport at 10am the following morning.

GIFT boxes at Alor Setar airport, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.
Customs inspection of GIFT, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016. Customs officer approving shipment, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.
Security checked label, Malaysia. Kate Bevitt, 2016.

On arrival in Myanmar, the boxes were taken to Hlawgar Hatchery in Yangon, run by the Department of Fisheries, a 45-minute drive from the airport. At the station, each cohort of fry was placed in separate, labeled net cages known as hapas.

GIFT seed arrives in Myanmar. Manjurul Karim, 2016.
Unpacking GIFT seed, Myanmar. Manjurul Karim, 2016. Unpacking GIFT seed, Myanmar. Manjurul Karim, 2016.

Before placing the fry into the water, the fish spent 15 minutes acclimatizing and adjusting to their new surroundings. The journey, from the start of the packing process to final release into the hapas, took around 24 hours with 85 percent of the fry surviving.

WorldFish continues to work with the department to establish a structured breeding program that prevents stock deterioration and inbreeding, thereby preserving the genetic qualities of GIFT.

Releasing GIFT seed, Myanmar. Manjurul Karim, 2016. Releasing GIFT seed, Myanmar. Manjurul Karim, 2016.

Aquaculture vital to food security in Myanmar

This work to develop small-scale aquaculture is vital in Myanmar, where fish is important for domestic food security. It is the main source of protein in the average household diet and provides essential micronutrients needed for good health and child development.

Fish farming, which has seen rapid growth over the last decade, already accounts for 22% of annual fish production. Yet it still lags behind neighboring Thailand and Bangladesh, where aquaculture accounts for 80% and 55% of total production, respectively.

With aquaculture in Myanmar expected to keep growing, and with rural households already consuming 62% of farmed fish sold domestically, the use of higher quality GIFT seed will enable resource-poor farmers to produce more food for themselves and their country.

Malato, Maubin township, Myanmar. Photo By Toby Johnson