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Episode 29: With Dr Harpinder Sandhu

In this week’s podcast, Patrick speaks to Dr Harpinder Sandhu – global expert in food and farming systems, based at the University of South Australia, in Adelaide.

Patrick and Harpinder first crossed paths at a conference in Belgium, several years ago, united by their common interest in sustainable agriculture and the hidden costs of food. As they discuss in the podcast, Harpinder’s research at the time focussed on measuring sustainability on farms. It provided a significant role in inspiring the Sustainability Metrics project developed by the SFT in the years that followed.

Although Harpinder now lives in Australia, he is originally from Punjab, Northern India. He begins the conversation by talking about the meaning of ‘existence’, which is a powerful concept in the Punjabi language. Harpinder recounts the origins of his own existence, going back several centuries. He explains that although it is a story marked by conflict, this conflict has only ever been in search of protection – not expansion.

Moving forward, a more contemporary conflict Patrick wants to address is the farmers’ protests that have been taking place in India since November 2020. As Harpinder notes, Indian farming is predominantly embodied by small-holder farmers. Around 200 million of these farmers rely on the land for their livelihood, and in return they feed their communities and nurture their environment. However, the approach taken by the Indian government overlooks the invaluable social, cultural and environmental contributions of these small-scale farmers. The three farming laws passed last year will lead to the corporatisation of Indian farming, ultimately threatening their very existence.

Harpinder has been working hard to spread awareness around the subject – through education and communication. ‘Farmers are ready to sit down and discuss these laws’, he explains. Now it’s time for the Indian government to listen to their side of the story.

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Harpinder Sandhu is an Ecological Economist based at the University of South Australia, Adelaide and a global expert in agriculture and food systems sustainability. His research interests involve studying the interactions between society and the environment for inclusive and equitable development. His current research focuses on measuring social, human and natural capital for the transformation of agriculture and food systems towards sustainability. He has actively contributed to the development of scientific and economic foundations report of the United Nations Environment Program led TEEBAgriFood and is the Principal Investigator on several farm level studies in India, US and UK. He was nominated by the Australian Government to the United Nations Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) as an expert and has been a lead author in Pollination Report and Asia Pacific Regional Assessment. This collective work on the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2020.