“It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of crop diversity,” said Erik Solheim, Norway’s former Minister of International Development in 2007 when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made a $37.5 million grant to the Crop Trust and the government of Norway made a matching grant of $7.5 million. These grants were earmarked to secure over 95 percent of the endangered crop diversity held in developing country genebanks, many of which are under-funded and in disrepair. These dollars were also to be used to fund a comprehensive global information system that would allow plant breed- ers everywhere to search genebanks worldwide for traits needed to combat new diseases and cope with climate change. While nearly everyone can agree on the importance of preserving genetic diversity, where we are today and how we do it can be highly controversial — fueled by passion, fear, dollars, politics and belief. An estimated 20 percent of plant diversity is under threat from habitat degradation, invasive species and over-exploitation, according to the Crop Trust. A representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation once said: “There can be no food security without first securing the basis of our food production — the genetic diversity of every crop …” All countries are interdependent on one another for vital plant genetic material. To date, there have been a number of efforts to create frameworks to preserve genetic diversity. One is the Nagoya Protocol and the other is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). In this article, we will focus on the latter. Formed under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the treaty entered into force June 29, 2004, with the guidance of a governing body that is comprised of representatives from all con- tracting parties. The Treaty’s Framework The treaty sets out to accomplish three things. First, it aims to take care of the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Second, the genetic resources should be used in a sustainable manner. And third, access and benefit- sharing should be managed. The treaty also recog- nizes that farmers have contributed to the diversity of crops that feed the world; therefore, it works to ensure that recipients share the benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials. With 144 countries that are now party to the treaty, it has since established a global multilateral system (MLS) to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materi- als from 64 crops and to ensure that recipients share benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials according to agreed procedures. Those who access the materials must be from the treaty’s ratifying nations, and they must agree to use the materials totally for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture. The treaty prevents the recipients of genetic resources from claiming intellectual property rights over those resources in the form in which they received them, and ensures that access to genetic resources already protected by international property rights is consistent with international and national laws. Additionally, those who access genetic materi- als through the MLS agree to share any benefits from their use through four benefit-sharing mecha- nisms established by the ITPGRFA. While parties have access to more than 4 mil- lion vital plant genetic resources through the treaty and the treaty has positively impacted the lives of more than 1 million people, the benefitsharing framework has left the system broke. Under the current system, benefit sharing can be monetary and non-monetary; however, non- monetary sharing is not always felt as sufficient, particularly by developing countries. >1 million varieties are conserved in the Svalbard seed vault. $ 270 million is the approximate value of the endowment fund. 757,767 crop varieties are conserved through Crop Trust’s core work. >3.6 million varieties are recorded in Genesys, the global portal for plant genetic resources. “It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of crop diversity.” –Erik Solheim 30 / SEEDWORLD.COM JUNE 2018