It all started in 1994 when Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado had just returned home from a traumatic project covering the devastations of the genocide in Rwanda. Looking to heal himself, Salgado decided to take a break by taking up the family farm which was located in the Minas Gerais area.
Growing deforestation is a big issue for the sustainability of our environment. But individuals like famed photographer Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado and his wife Lélia are trying to save it. The Brazilian couple started a project to plant two million trees and now, 20 years later, the seeds have grown into a lush forest in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil.
But what he saw there devastated him even more: what was once a rich forest had morphed into a severely damaged landscape due to rampant deforestation and disappearing wildlife.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” said Salgado.
“Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees. Then my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest. And when we began to do that, then all the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”
In April 1998 Salgado and his family set up the Instituto Terra and have now planted more than 2 million trees, transforming the environment. In doing so, he says, he has found one answer to climate change – as well as creative inspiration.
172 bird species have come back, of which 6 are already in the danger of becoming extinct.
33 species of mammals have returned, with two of them being vulnerable and bout to be extinct worldwide.
There has been a return of 293 species of plants, 15 species of reptiles and 15 species of amphibians.
“Perhaps we have a solution. There is a single being which can transform CO2 to oxygen, which is the tree. We need to replant the forest. You need forest with native trees, and you need to gather the seeds in the same region you plant them or the serpents and the termites won’t come. And if you plant forests that don’t belong, the animals don’t come there and the forest is silent.
“We need to listen to the words of the people on the land. Nature is the earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.”
But that is not all that the Instituto Terra is doing. It slowly turned into a ray of hope for people who were aware of the environmental problems and knew why afforestation must be turned into a way of life. To spread this light of hope and awareness, the Instituto Terra created the Center for Environmental Education and Restoration (CERA), a place for research and education which focuses on environmental restoration. It has already looked into the different models of development that exist today and is trying to modify it to create a model that could be used for sustainable development. As a result, by December 2012, the Instituto Terra had developed about 700 educational projects and brought in about 65,000 people who work in more than 170 municipalities present in the Valley of the River Doce. It covered the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, as well as reaching out to states of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia.
Salgado’s mission has been successful. Now, 10% of the PNHR is left to be restored. According to him, climate change occurs due to carbon dioxide and there is only one solution to lowering carbon dioxide – planting more trees! They are the only beings that absorb carbon dioxide and utilize it well. The science is already there – the question is: what are we doing about it?