Sebastiao Salgado returned to a world of ecological devastation when he visited his native Brazil after a long hiatus in the mid-1990s. The legendary photojournalist realized that the world’s most crucial but fragile ecosystem was in imminent danger. He initiated a reforestation project that in a decade managed to restore his land to its former glory.
He and Lelia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, his wife, witnessed terrible environmental destruction in the vicinity of a cattle ranch that once belonged to his family. It is in the Brazilian state, Minas Gerais. The couple immediately decided to transform the property and return it to its pristine natural state. The result of the reforestation project was amazing and brings hope for transforming the environmentally devastated corners of the world.
From One Devastation To Another
What remained of the tropical paradise of his childhood was large swaths of brown earth. The trees were gone and along with it the flourishing wildlife. It was doubly traumatizing for him, as he had recently returned from the killing fields of Rwanda in 1994.
He found the land was just as sick as he was from the inside after witnessing the genocide in Africa. Just 0.5% of the pristine land cover remained.
It was his wife Lelia who first proposed the reforestation project to return the land to its lost glory. And as they toiled their way to restore the land, the birds, insects, and animals slowly returned to what was once their home.
A Superhuman Effort: With Some Human Support
The husband and wife duo realized that they needed funds for the reforestation project and they brought in partners, and funds, and by April 1998 had founded the Istituto Terra for restoration of forest land. They have since planted over 2M trees and have transformed the local environment.
And in the process, Salgado has found the answer to fighting climate change. Moreover, it also gave him the creative inspiration that has inspired him to go on despite the devastation that he has witnessed across continents.
He believes that the tree can save us. This single being transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen. Rejuvenating the world can only be through replantation on a massive scale worldwide. And the forests have to be planted with only native trees. So, he gathered seeds of trees from his native region for the reforestation project.
And as the trees grew and covered the earth, the creatures came back. A total ecosystem was again created and was thriving. He is totally against the planting of trees that are not native. He believes that such forests remain silent as the animals do not return to forests where they do not belong.
Salgado also believes that we ought to take note of the voices of the people of the land. He thinks the return has to be not just physical. He also believes in the spiritual connection with the land if it is to be nourished back to life.
Regaining The Lost Glory Through The Reforestation Project
His reforestation project worked. The land that he made his own is only green. Repainted native forests stretching as far as the eye can see. Today they do not own the land anymore. The federal authorities own and recognize the nature preserve. It is a non-profit that plants millions of tree seedlings in its nursery. Trained young ecologists are in charge of the restoration project.
The Atlantic Forest was second in biodiversity to the Amazon forest with an almost unbelievable richness. In the 1980s it had shrunk to a tenth of its original forest cover.
The Salgados has proved that it is possible to reverse environmental degradation, but it requires first dedication and support from every quarter, the government, companies, everybody. But more than that, it was the emotional dimension in their efforts that saw them succeed in their efforts to bring back the forest.
Finally, as his efforts took root, he set off on an 8-year project that saw him document nature around the world. He had succeeded in reflecting his own life and experience onto the world.