As the global population increases, so does the number of mouths to feed. As we observe World Population Day on July 11, the good news is that in addition to providing food, innovations in sustainable agriculture can provide a solution to many of the challenges that a growing population presents. 

"Agriculture is emerging as a solution to mitigating climate change, reducing public health problems and costs, making cities more livable, and creating jobs in a stagnant global economy," said Danielle Nierenberg, Director of Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project, a two-year evaluation of environmentally sustainable agricultural innovations to alleviate hunger.

This year, the world's population will hit 7 billion, according to the United Nations. Reaching this unprecedented level of population density has prompted the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to launch a "7 Billion Actions" campaign to promote individuals and organizations that are using successful new techniques for tackling global development challenges. By sharing these innovations in an open forum, the campaign aims to foster communication and collaboration as our world becomes more populated and increasingly interdependent. 

Not even demographers can actually forecast how many people will be added to world population over the coming century, noted Robert Engelman, a population expert and Worldwatch Executive Director. As more women and their partners gain access to reproductive health services and manage their own childbearing, average family size has fallen significantly in recent decades and could continue to do so, assuming expanded support for reproductive health and improvements in women's autonomy and status. The likelihood of continued population growth for some time, however, remains high. And that will add to the need to harness the ingenuity of human beings to sustain both people and the planet. 

"We'll have to learn how to moderate our consumption of materials and energy and to jumpstart new technologies that conserve them," Engelman said. Innovations in farming will be among the most important: with planning, agriculture can operate not only as a less-consumptive industry, but also one that works in harmony with the environment.

Researchers with Nourishing the Planet (www.NourishingthePlanet.org) traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to meet with more than 350 farmers groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists, highlighting small-scale agricultural efforts that are helping to improve peoples' livelihoods by providing them with food and income. The findings are documented in the recently released report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet

Nourishing the Planet's research in Africa has unveiled innovative and cost-effective approaches to agriculture where farmers are treating land as a resource rather than solely as a means for food production. Many of these solutions are scalable and can be adapted to farming systems around the world. "The global connections go beyond Africa. Everyone is in this together in more ways than one," said Nierenberg.

Nourishing the Planet recommends four ways that agriculture is helping to address the challenges that a growing global population will bring.