A fast-growing and hardy strain of tilapia is helping Filipino fish farmers to recover their livelihoods in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

Like most houses in the small village of Villa Imelda in MacArthur, Leyte, the home of Evangeline Maico stood on the shore of Lake Bito, a 126-hectare freshwater lake.

A 67-year-old fish farmer, Evangeline describes herself as a tilapia culture “veteran,” having grown the fish since the 1990s. While in many ways this livelihood was challenging for Evangeline and her family, they learned to tie their fish cages to the posts of their house, making the fish easily accessible for harvest.

However, when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, it washed away her home, and with it, her livelihood.

The strongest storm ever recorded at landfall, Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) affected the lives of 2.6 million families, 90% of whom live in the Central and Eastern Visayas regions. The fisheries sector, particularly small-scale and artisanal fishers, suffered heavy damage, losing not only their boats, gear, fish cages and pens, but also their homes.

“I was thankful to be able to make a living once again. GIFT was really a gift for me and my husband.” – Evangeline Maico, fish farmer

To support the rehabilitation of these sites, WorldFish partnered with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Region 8, the Department of Science and Technology Region 8, and Central Luzon State University to launch the Post-Yolanda Rehabilitation Project.

The project aims to address food sufficiency and facilitate the development of sustainable livelihoods in these typhoon-affected areas. A component of the project focuses on improving the productivity of tilapia culture to provide affected communities, especially the resource-poor and marginalized, with access to a reliable and affordable supply of fish.

Fish is an important source of protein, essential fatty acids and micronutrients that are essential for good health and can help prevent undernutrition. This is particularly important in the Philippines, where 3.6 million children under 5 years of age are underweight and 4 million are stunted.

Fifty small-scale aquaculture farmers, including Evangeline, received the first batch of the Malaysian strain of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) fingerlings through a small handover ceremony on the shores of Lake Bito in July 2014.

“I was thankful to be able to make a living once again. GIFT was really a gift for me and my husband,” Evangeline says. The farmers were also trained on tilapia production and hatchery operations to ensure that a high yield of fish would be available for small-scale fish farmers.

Evangeline is the oldest among the 20 female farmers in the village of Villa Imelda who grow tilapia in Lake Bito. “Tilapia-growing is a big help to us. It is especially good because both men and women can do it,” she says.

Almost a year after the first batch of fingerlings, Evangeline is stocking her cage for the third time and remains positive despite facing some challenges in terms of physical health, increasing prices of feeds, the fluctuating farm gate price of fish, lack of adequate postharvest facilities and the frequent occurrence of typhoons in the country. The growing number of communities along the shores of Lake Bito also increases the likelihood of water pollution with time.

“GIFT Malaysia is the best. I’ve tried all the strains being promoted in our area, and so far it is the best,” says Evangeline, who reports that the GIFT Malaysia strain grows faster, has firmer flesh and even tastes better than any other tilapia strain she has tried. Other farmers in the area agree.

Evangeline earned a total of USD 267 from her first harvest and USD 355 from her second harvest. A 55% increase in the volume of harvest was noted with GIFT compared with yields using previous tilapia strains.

After two successful batches of GIFT, things are looking up for Evangeline and her fellow fish farmers in Villa Imelda. Community members are earning a living from selling their fish and producing enough for household consumption.

Evangeline and her 89-year-old husband now live in a new home that she was able to build after two profitable cycles of production—an accomplishment she credits to GIFT.

Distribution of fingerlings is currently phased, as fry production of regional hatcheries relies heavily on the breeders being produced by Central Luzon State University and is not usually enough to cover the needs of all fish farmers. Sixty-four other farmers in Lake Bito received the new batch of fingerlings in July 2015, and Evangeline was happy to tell them that it was worth the wait. WorldFish and its partners are working together to ensure provision to all fish farmers in the region.