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  • Writer's pictureJason Capp

Saving the Rainforest: The Power of Two

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

A couple in Brazil have taken it upon themselves to transform a barren plot of land and turn it into a tropical paradise. What started out as a simple conviction slowly became an effort that is truly restoring one of earth's most precious resources.

Famed Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado and his wife Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado have managed to do something so many people have only ever dreamed of. They took a plot of desolate farm land in Brazil's Minas Gerais state and turned it into something that is changing the hearts of many worldwide.

They have spent the last twenty years planting millions of trees across 1750 acres of land to help save displaced animals that were affected due to deforestation, many of which have become endangered.

This journey began when Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado proposed to replant the forest. She was ashamed at how degraded and horrible the land had become and thought it was a bad gift for future generations.

When Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado returned from a traumatizing trip to Rwanda in 1994 covering the genocide that was happening, he was appalled by how sick the land had become. "Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees," he recalled.

"Why not plant?" his wife suggested.

And so Salgado and his wife began to restore the land to its former glory by getting their hands dirty.

In 1998, they founded the Instituto Terra, an organization dedicated to restoring the valley. They even received support from one of the world's largest mining companies and reforestation experts, which donated 100,000 seedlings from their own nursery and helped them to revive the deal soil.

The first seeds were planted the following year by local school students. This helped to make the project less about Salgado and his land and more about giving back to the community and Brazil. The community development from this project grew strong and was a driving force behind the recovery.

Over twenty years, the soil became lush. Flora and fauna began to thrive and bloom. Trees have returned to their homes. Birds from all over have reclaimed their old nesting grounds. And many mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, many of which are endangered, have arrived at the tropical paradise and are enjoying its blessings and benefits.

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"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," Salgado said.

Not only has this restoration been an inspiration around the world, but its benefits have extended tremendously in the surrounding areas. Several springs in the area have been rejuvenated, bringing in many more animals.

The couple no longer owns the land, because it is now a nationally recognized nature preserve that is providing tons of resources and jobs to the area. Thanks to this recognition and Instituto Terra, the couple's organization, local farmers are being trained and supported to better care for the land.

The property, which once received 100,000 seedlings before its resurrection, is now supplying millions of tree seedlings itself which are being preserved in its nursery.

What was once so desperate for life is now returning the favor and supplying life for other desolate and barren areas.

All of this began over a simple conviction by a couple that were ashamed by what happened to their land. 20 years later, they are truly changing the world and training future generations to continue to do the same.

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