Sebastião Salgado is a renowned photographer of nature and the developing world. He travels often to places where people live simply and in a much more direct connection with the natural world around them. Back in 1994, he returned home to Brazil after a particularly grueling trip to Rwanda. Partially to decompreess, he decided to take residence on the family farm where he was born, in Minas Gerais, a place he remembered as a tropical paradise.
But by the mid-90s, when he returned, it was a desolate wasteland. The trees he’d grown up taking for granted, gone. The birds and insects living in the leaves, vanished. It was devastating. His wife had an ambitious idea.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” said Salgado. “Only about 0.5 percent of the land was covered in trees. Then my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest.”
So the couple began planting trees. They also started an environmental organization dedicated to bringing back healthy forests in the surrounding area, the Instituto Terra.
20 years later, two million trees have been planted, and what had been 1,754 acres of deforested dirt, is now a thriving forest. A Private Natural Heritage Reserve, even.
Nearly 300 species of trees now grow there. Animals have returned, many of which are endangered. Springs that once ran freely through the forest flow again.
“We need to listen to the words of the people on the land,” Salgado said. “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.”