We are witnessing more and more deforestation happening every year (with instant consequences such as the Amazon rainforest fires), and according to United Nations’ Food and Agriculture organization, an area of 129 millions hectares of forest was destroyed forever between 1990 and 2015, which is 3,1% of the all the forest areas in the world.
In comparison, that is almost the size of South Africa, and to make things worse, of course it does not stop there. An area approximately the size of Panama is lost each year. It might seem terrifying (and it should be!), but it does not mean there is nothing that can be done. This Brazilian photographer and his wife prove that even just one (or two) person(s) can make a change.
Sebastião Salgado is a very famous and renowned photographer. He won many major awards in photojournalism and published multiple books. In the 1990s, he documented the horrible war crimes commited during the Rwandan genocide, and returned to his native area mentally and physically exhausted. He expected to see lush rainforests, but he found the area barren and devoid of wildlife. He was devastated, but his wife Lélia believed it could be restored to what it has once been.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Salgado said for The Guardian in 2015. “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.”
Sebastião and Lélia found Instituto Terra, a small organization that has planted over four million saplings so far and helped forest come alive again. Salgado explains how everything is connected and how planting of native trees helped bring all the native animals back: “Perhaps we have a solution,” Salgado said. “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.”
But after twenty years of Sebastião’s and Lélia’s dedicated work, the forest is silent no more. They took utmost care to ensure that every single sapling they planted was native to the land, and now, the area is as alive as it was many years ago. Animals have returned, and instead of the deadly silence, one can hear birds singing and chirping, and insects going around on their business. The entire ecosystem has been reborn – 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, 15 spieces of reptiles, 15 species of aphibians, and 293 species of plants are back.