In the early twentieth century, scientists and agriculturalists collected plants in greenhouses, botanical gardens, and fields. Seed collection efforts in the twentieth century coincided with the professionalization of plant breeding. When scientists became concerned over the loss of plant genetic diversity due to the expansion of a few agricultural crops around mid-century, countries and organizations created seed banks for long-term seed storage. Around 1979, environmental groups began to object to what they perceived as limited access to seed banks, and they questioned the ownership of the intellectual property of living organisms. Controversy also ensued over the uneven flow of genetic resources because many of the seed banks were located in the global North, yet plants were collected largely from countries in the global South. The environmental groups' campaigns, which some called the seed wars, and the movement for biodiversity conservation intersected in ways that shaped debates about plant genetic material and seed banking. Several significant shifts in governance occurred in 1994 that led to the creation of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute in Italy, and to changes in the governance of several international seed banks.

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