Sebastio Ribeiro Salgado, a Brazilian photojournalist, returned from East Africa about 30 years ago, where he had been on location capturing the horrors of the Rwanda genocide. Salgado was supposed to take over his family’s huge cattle property in Minas Gerais after this traumatic project—a location he recalled as a lush and bustling rainforest. Unfortunately, the landscape had changed dramatically; just around 0.5 percent of the land was covered in trees, and all of the fauna had vanished. “The earth was as ill as I was,” he tells The Guardian.
Then his wife Lélia came up with the concept of replanting the forest. In 1998, the pair founded the Instituto Terra, a “environmental organization committed to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce,” to promote this seemingly unattainable goal. The Salgados and the Instituto Terra crew slowly but steadily restored the 1,754-acre forest over the following several years, changing it from a barren stretch of land to a tropical paradise.
Hundreds of kinds of flora and animals call the former cattle ranch home, which is now a Private Natural Heritage Reserve. In addition to 293 tree species, the area presently supports 172 bird species, 33 animal species, and 15 amphibian and reptile species, many of which are threatened. This rejuvenation, as projected, has had a significant influence on the ecology and climate. Aside from restoring flora and animals to the region, the initiative has also revitalized numerous once-dry springs in the drought-prone area, as well as having a good impact on local temperatures.
Finally, and probably most surprisingly, this significant achievement has protected more than just the local landscape. “All the insects, birds, and fish returned,” Salgado explains, “and, owing to the increased number of trees, I was reborn as well—this was the most crucial moment.”
Sebastio Ribeiro Salgado, a Brazilian photojournalist, and his wife Lélia have converted a desolate patch of ground into a thriving forest over the course of 20 years.
It now supports a diverse range of plants and animals, many of which are endangered.
Hear the couple discuss their inspiring endeavor.