In the Peruvian context, underutilized crops can be defined as those
non-commercial species that form part of the country’s agricultural
biodiversity, which were very popular in the past but which today are
appreciated mainly by local producers and consumers only.
There are different reasons leading to such underutilization - agricultural factors, such as high costs in terms of the interval between harvests of some crops and the short life of fruit after harvesting; and also economic factors related to the high trading cost of taking products to the market and the low financial gains compared to other improved varieties.
There are also some historical factors causing this diminished interest, related to the replacement of native species and
trends towards homogenising crops. The consequence of the foregoing is that nowadays many people who are outside farming environments are not aware of the multitude of qualities offered by these products.
In this context, national government has posed interesting alternatives - but greatly restricted as far as their possible implementation is concerned – to promote, use and preserve agricultural diversity. However, very few policies in the agrarian sector (both nationally and on a regional scale, acknowledge such diversity, which mainly consists of underutilized crops, alternative production and economic improvements for the population, but rather describe it as part of the natural biological diversity to be preserved. In other words, they do not associate rural development with competitiveness and innovation applied to wider usage of agrarian biological diversity.
However, some interesting alternatives have been found, such as the National Programme for Agro-Biodiversity (2004) or the inclusion of increased investment and capacity in the political lines established for the agrarian sector.
The importance of underutilized species has been seen to extend beyond simple niches on the international market for natural products. Our underutilized crops have a high nutraceutical and nutritional potential, as well as high capacity for acclimatisation, thereby making them a significant alternative in the struggle against world hunger and malnutrition.
Apart from what we already know about UPS as safe foodstuffs, we are now beginning to gain insight into the potential of these underutilized species as a source of active compounds for industry and genes for plant improvement programmes or other biotechnology applications.