Written by Richard Grubb
In one of life’s strange twists September 27th is a date that has a double significance in the history of the Comprehensive Rural Health Project. It was on this day in 1999 that CRHP founder Dr. Mabelle passed away, 29 years to the day after the official foundation of the organisation that she created with her husband Dr. Raj. As a result of these two events, the 27th September has become a day on which CRHP not only looks back upon past achievements, but continuously looks towards future successes too. This combination of looking back while looking forward was encapsulated on September 27th this year with the reopening of the CRHP demonstration farm in Khadkat under its new name; the ‘Rajanikant Arole Demonstration Farm’.
The significance of Dr’s Raj and Mabelle to the success of CRHP is unquestionable. During the recent opening ceremony several staff members had the opportunity to talk about the impact that the two founders had had upon their lives and the way in which they had inspired them to dedicate their own lives to working for the poorest of the poor. Today, the impact of Dr’s Raj and Mabelle is clear to see in all aspects of the organisation they founded back in 1970. All one needs to do is speak to a Village Health Worker, or sit in on a training session, to realise the vision they held when they founded CRHP. It was a vision that was shaped by their understanding of the multiple factors that contribute to health. Dr. Raj realised early on in the establishment of CRHP that within an agrarian community such as Jamkhed, the importance of health to agrarian livelihoods was absolute. It was a realisation that inspired the creation of the demonstration farm in the 1980s.
Dr. Raj was passionate about the farm and spent a great deal of his time there, often travelling to the farms home in Khadkat village after a long day working in the hospital in Jamkhed. He was lucky enough to be surrounded with excellent staff and worked in close partnership with various experts in order to create a centre of excellence in appropriate farming techniques. As with all aspects of CRHP programs the farm programme didn’t simply begin and end with one goal. Five key aims were established; to provide demonstrations in appropriate farming techniques, to provide training to local farmers, to demonstrate value added production activities, to provide nutritious food to CRHP staff members and visitors, and to act as a centre of rehabilitation.
In the intervening years between the farms establishment and its recent reopening there have been a series of ups and downs of which many have been shaped by the changeable weather patterns common to this part of India; the past decade has been shaped by near continuous drought like conditions. This came to a head in 2012 when Maharashtra witnessed its worst drought since 1975. Sitting in the rain shadow of the Western Ghats the Jamkhed area relies almost entirely on agriculture for income, yet exhibits the most difficult farming conditions in the state with poor, rocky soil, and less rainfall than any other part of Maharashtra. The irony is not lost on those farming the land.
CRHP as an institution has not been immune to the problems brought on by the weather either and over the past decade several demonstrations have been halted and training seminars postponed. Now, perhaps more than any other time in the past 20 years, however, there is need for a source of support for farmers in the Jamkhed area. Beginning at the start of 2014 with a research project in 12 villages the focus of CRHP has slowly turned towards agricultural livelihoods once again. New demonstrations have been established and existing demonstrations have been improved upon. The Rajanikant Arole Demonstration Farm now boasts seven central demonstrations that lend a particular focus upon tree farming and animal husbandry. A new guesthouse has been created that allows up to seven visitors to stay overnight at the farm and through simple additions such as additional signage the demonstration farm is a far more visual experience for visitors. After several years of scaling back, CRHP is now in a position to once again welcome both local and international guests to the farm for training and exposure.
One of the endearing qualities of Dr. Raj was his desire to continually improve upon things. He never stood still and let things plateau. This is a quality that can now be seen in action at the farm that holds his name. All the current demonstrations are a direct result of research that was carried out in the communities that the farm serves, and tackle the problems that exist today. These problems were not defined by outsiders, but instead, defined by those who have been directly impacted by them. With the continued impact of climatic change there is little doubt that the next decade will prove more difficult than ever before for farmers in the Jamkhed area. Thanks to a vision created over 40 years ago, and its endearing legacy today, a support mechanism is in place that will serve those in need for the next 40 years and beyond.