LIVESTOCK hold massive potential for lifting entire populations out of poverty but genetics, health and feed remain major barriers to achieving meaningful change to animal production systems in developing countries.
Alfred de Vries, who leads the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's animal production R&D program, said the $4.7 billion a year philanthrophic organisation recognised massive nutritional and productivity gains were possible.
"Most animals in developing countries have health challenges and very low yields - often 10 times lower compared to other countries - resulting in low farmer income, poor resource efficiency, high green house gas emission intensity and high consumer prices," Dr de Vries said.
"New technologies - genomics, reproduction, digitisation - help to overcome the barriers, but much more is needed."
Livestock were also a significant opportunity to meet the nutritional needs of children in particular, and also empower women in the central role they play on farms in developing countries, he said.
Dr de Vries was a keynote speaker at the 2019 TropAg conference in Brisbane, which brought together more than 800 delegates working in agricultural research from across the earth's tropical and sub-tropical zones.
The zone, which includes much of Queensland, is expected to be home to half of the planet's 10 billion people, and 60pc of the world's children, by 2050.
Dr de Vries underscored his presentation with the observation that Africa's 312 million dairy cows were producing on average 213kg of milk a year. That contrasted with the 9766kg/head production of the US's 89m cattle.
It was a similar story for poultry with hens in Africa producing an egg only once a fortnight compared to almost one a day in developed countries.
TropAg conference chair Robert Henry said TropAg would help chart a strategic direction to address the planet's potential food crisis.
"If we continue to rely on conventional agriculture, even in 20 years' time, we won't be capable of producing the amount of food the world needs," Professor Henry said.
"Adding to this conundrum is the impact of drought and more variable rainfall patterns resulting from climate change, and the increasing scarcity of arable land, soil fertility and water."
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner - who officially opened the three day conference - said solutions needed to be identified to sustainably grow food production.
"Agriculture and food producers must continue to meet growing demand while facing the challenges of sustainable resource use, ongoing drought, more variable rainfall patterns, increasing global trade competitiveness, and changing consumer preferences," Mr Furner said.