The specter of tightening budgets loomed over proceedings of the International Food Aid and Development Conference in Kansas City last week. More than 600 representatives of government, private voluntary organizations, international aid agencies, industry and recipient countries met under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development to discuss directions for U.S. foreign food and agriculture assistance. It was the thirteenth annual conference convened by those agencies, but never before were possible severe budget constraints so much at the center of attention.

In the wake of the global food price crisis of 2007-08 and the world recession that soon followed, world leaders committed themselves to reinvest in developing nation agriculture even while renewing

long-standing commitments to provide food assistance to those in dire need. The United States took the lead, and President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative was launched to invigorate the agriculture sectors of select key developing countries. Feed the Future was born out of a sense of urgency and was an acknowledgement the world must take bold new approaches if it is going to make serious inroads in reducing hunger. That sense of urgency, so recently broadly shared, seemed in danger of dissipating, at least in Congress.

The House of Representatives recently adopted H.R. 2112, the fiscal 2012 budget for the U.S.D.A. and related agencies. The bill approved by the House would appropriate about $1 billion for P.L. 480 Title II, which provides most of the funding for donations of U.S. food abroad for both emergency and development purposes. The proposed appropriation was 38% below the president’s request of $1.7 billion for fiscal 2012, 31% below appropriations for the current year under the continuing resolution at about $1.5 billion and down 43% from actual spending of about $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2010. H.R. 2112 also would cut the McGovern-Dole school feeding program but less severely. The agriculture appropriations bill bode ill for the Feed the Future initiative, which is mostly funded under the State Department’s development assistance account.

The Senate has yet to have its say on appropriations.