This Couple Planted 2.7 Million Trees to Rescue a Destroyed Forest

All this began with an ambitious dream to replant an obliterated forest

Jun 19, 2019


Brazil, Forest

(Gustavo Frazao /

When Photojournalist Sebastião Salgado left his hometown in Brazil to cover Rwanda’s horrific genocide, he had no idea that he would land back at home to a different type of devastation.

While Salgado was away, acres and acres of the lush forests he grew up with were cleared in a massive deforestation effort.

Salgado told the Guardian: "The land was as sick as I was. Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees." 

His wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, refused to accept the horrible reality that the land would be destroyed forever and proposed to Sebastião that they reforest the cleared pasture.

He could not refuse the offer.

The couple purchased an abandoned cattle ranch near the town of Aimorés, Minas Gerais from Sebastião’s parents, and quickly got to work.

The goal of the project was to restore the land to its native subtropical rainforest.

By April of 1988, the couple had built a network of volunteers and partners and had founded Instituto Terra, an organization that would focus on revitalizing the land. Since then, the organization has planted over 2.7 million trees, covering 1,502 acres of forest in 293 different tree species. As a result of the reforestation effort, 172 different species of birds have returned, 33 different mammals, 15 species of reptiles, and 15 different amphibians.

For Sebastião, reforesting the land is many things. It is a way to mitigate climate change, and it is also a spiritual return to our roots in the natural world.

“Nature is the earth,” he says. “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.”

Today, the organization works in numerous ways to heal the Brazilian landscape: it trains ecologists in agricultural, environmental, and forestry programming, produces important research papers, raises millions of plant seedlings in a flourishing nursery, and much more.

It is incredible to believe that all this began with an ambitious dream to replant an obliterated forest and one couple’s astonishing dedication to bringing the land back to life.

Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.