Couple plants two million trees in 20 years

Posted on 24 April 2019

Over 20 years ago, a Brazilian couple began a project to reforest a barren cattle ranch.

Professional photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife, Lélia, began planting trees on their farm, Bulcão in Brazil, in the hope that they might help to counter the environmental devastation they’d started noticing as early as the 1990s.

Salgado was born on a farm which his family had bought over from a cattle ranch owner in the 1940s, so the natural environment was always home to him. After witnessing and documenting the ravages of the Rwandan genocide, he sought the comforts and natural environment of his childhood, but was horrified to discover the environment dramatically changed and damaged. Together with Lélia he began his environmental passion project, founding the Instituto Terra in the April of 1998, a non-profit and non-government community organisation dedicated to the sustainable development of the former ranch, the Valley of the River Doce in the city of Aimorés, Brazil.

Image by Weverson Rocio

The Instituto Terra comprises a small portion of the 710 hectares the Salgados have helped to restore to their former subtropical rainforest glory. The region had long been the victim of rampant deforestation and exploitation for its natural resources, namely iron ore.

Before-and-after images show what the couple have managed to accomplish in 13 years, with the predominantly bare ranch landscape captured in the year 2000 almost unrecognisable as the same one occupied by thick forest growth just over a decade later. Of this acreage, the majority (608 hectares) was declared a Private Natural Heritage Reserve. The Salgados’ efforts over the last 21 years in the planting of two million saplings have seen the return of some 528 species, the majority of them birds and plants, as well as 33 mammal and 30 reptile and amphibian species. The entire ecosystem was rebuilt again in order to host the returning wildlife.

In 2013, Sebastião produced Genesis, a published photographic portfolio of nature, wildlife and people, considered by some to be his ‘love letter to the planet’ for its tender portrayal of the natural world. In the same year, he hosted a TedTalk about the importance of rebuilding forests.

Salgado’s graphic medium helps emphasise his agenda of ringing the alarm on climate change and deforestation, urging global leaders to heed the call of nature and rehabilitate rather than devastate.

Image by Sebastião Salgado

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