The U.S. government has made major strides toward putting agricultural development back at the top of its foreign assistance agenda, reversing a three-decade long downward trend in U.S. global food security activities, says a new report issued by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The 2012 Progress Report on U.S. Leadership in Global Agricultural Development (PDF) is the second in a series of annual reports tracking changes to the U.S. government's global agricultural development policy. The non-partisan assessment, issued by the Council's Global Agricultural Development Initiative, examines how these changes have contributed to U.S. leadership in improving global food security. The Initiative is cochaired by Catherine Bertini, former executive director, UN World Food Program, and Dan Glickman, former secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It is clear that the U.S. government has begun to develop and implement a focused strategy for global agricultural development, with well-defined goals and benchmarks," said Bertini. "Renewed U.S. efforts are helping further the plans of African, Asian, and Latin American country governments to revitalize their agricultural sectors, spur economic growth, and alleviate poverty."

The report finds that under the direction of Secretary Clinton and Administrator Shah, both the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development are showing "outstanding" leadership in advancing these issues. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, via its activities to bolster agricultural infrastructure in developing countries, is also making "outstanding" contributions to renewing U.S. leadership.

Congress receives a "good" evaluation for making policy changes and appropriating substantial resources for food security in a difficult budget environment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture receives a "good" evaluation and the Peace Corps a "satisfactory" evaluation for their respective contributions. The study also examines how the changes in Washington have led to higher levels of U.S. agricultural development activity in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Bangladesh.

The report concludes that while this recent progress should be celebrated, the hard work is just beginning. "The 2012 Progress Report is best viewed as a midterm evaluation of U.S. leadership in what must be a long-term effort, rather than a final grade on a finished job," said Glickman. "The challenge in the years to come will be to maintain this level of leadership and resourcing for the decade or more needed to bring tangible benefits to the developing world's agriculturalists - and to our global food security."

The food price crisis of 2008 spurred renewed international and U.S. attention to the challenge of global food insecurity. In 2009 President Obama pledged to double U.S. support for global agricultural development and Senators Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) introduced legislation to make food security a higher priority for U.S. foreign assistance. This same year, The Chicago Council released its seminal report entitled Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty. This report put forward a comprehensive strategy for revitalizing U.S. global agricultural development activities and funding.

More than half of the world's population living on less than $1.25 a day reside in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Food production will need to increase by 70 percent in the coming decades to overcome the challenge of global hunger, alleviate poverty through increasing the incomes of rural populations, and meet the growing demand for food. A key component to increasing food production and alleviating global poverty will be investments in developing country agriculture and food systems.