A Brazilian couple has spent the last 20 years planting an entire forest… an unprecedented achievement in the modern world.
Brazil – Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado Júnior (born February 8, 1944) is a Brazilian social documentary photographer and photojournalist who has spent the last 20 years planting trees and recreating a lost forest.
Salgado was born on February 8, 1944, in Aimorés, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. After a somewhat itinerant childhood, Salgado initially trained as an economist, earning a master’s degree in economics from the University of São Paulo in Brazil. He began work as an economist for the International Coffee Organization, often travelling to Africa on missions for the World Bank when he first started seriously taking photographs.
He chose to abandon a career as an economist and switched to photography in 1973, working initially on news assignments before veering more towards documentary-type work. Salgado initially worked with the photo agency Sygma and the Paris-based Gamma, but in 1979, he joined the international cooperative of photographers Magnum Photos.
He left Magnum in 1994 and with his wife Lélia Wanick Salgado formed his own agency, Amazonas Images, in Paris, to represent his work. He is particularly noted for his social documentary photography of workers in less developed nations.
But it’s his crucial environmental work that is getting all the attention in 2019.
Together, Lélia and Sebastião have worked since the 1990s on the restoration of a small part of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.
Confronting environmental devastation in and around a former cattle ranch bought from Sebastião Salgado’s family near the town of Aimorés, in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais, they decided to return the property to its natural state of subtropical rainforest. They recruited partners, raised funds and, in April 1998, they founded the Instituto Terra, an environmental organisation dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce.
Since then, the couple’s dream has already borne much fruit.
Thanks to the work of the 2 million trees, which has now been declared a Private Natural Heritage Reserve (PNHR), some 17,000 acres of deforested and badly eroded land in a broad stretch of the Valley of the River Doce have undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. More than four million seedlings of the multiple species native to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest have been raised in the institute’s own nursery. Those plants are now reforesting what was long known as the Salgado family’s Fazenda Bulcão, or Bulcão Farm, and are also contributing to similar environmental restoration programs in surrounding areas.
“Once in a state of advanced natural degradation, this former cattle ranch has been transformed into a fertile woodland, alive with flora and fauna which for millenniums had made the Atlantic Forest one of the world’s most important repositories of natural species. The experience shows that, with the return of vegetation, water again flows from natural springs and Brazilian animal species at risk of extinction have again found a safe refuge.”
With the reforestation of the Bulcão Farm, where the first planting took place in December 1999, the Instituto Terra is nearing completion of recovery of a single uninterrupted section of the Atlantic Forest. This is an unprecedented achievement in the modern world.