This project is the result of an ambitious initiative taken in the late 1990s by Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado and Sebastião Salgado. 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 organization 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 Instituto Terra, 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.
Center For Environmental Education and Restoration - CERA
From the moment they founded the Instituto Terra, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado and Sebastião Salgado, saw the institute as serving as a beacon to awaken environmental awareness of the need to restore and conserve forest land. Recognizing education and research as key components of this strategy, on February 19, 2002, the Instituto Terra created the Center for Environmental Education and Restoration (CERA).
The objective of the Center is to become a benchmark in the qualification of professionals who can be effective in the recovery of devastated areas and in environmental restoration and appraisal. They should also be trained in the sustainable use of natural resources and in alternative techniques for the production, administration and management of rural properties.
Construction of a student residence and acquisition of necessary equipment were made possible by Philips of Brazil and the Florindon Foundation in Switzerland. The research for developing the curriculum was financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Functioning essentially as a boarding school providing professional training, the Center of Studies in Ecosystem Restoration offers ten scholarships each year. The students are lodged, fed and clothed and receive a monthly allowance. The training in agricultural techniques designed to restore and preserve the Atlantic Forest is aimed at a very specific public: the farmers of the central region of the Valley of the River Doce as well as businesses and the Government. In this way, the Instituto Terra aspires to use its experience of reforesting Bulcão Farm to encourage adoption of models of sustainable agriculture in the region.
PNHR Bulcão Farm
The Instituto Terra committed itself to the recovery of the 1,502 acres of rainforest in the Bulcão Farm in Aimorés, Minas Gerais. The farm was completely devastated when, in 1998, it received the title of Private Natural Heritage Reserve (PNHR). The former cattle ranch originally covered 1,740 acres.
The first planting was carried out in December 1999, and since then, year after year, with the support of important associates, it has been possible to plant over two million seedlings of more than 290 species of trees, recreating a forest of arboreal and shrub species native to the Atlantic Forest.
At present, only 10 percent of the PNHR remains to be restored. And the process continues, with the goal of increasing the numbers of native Atlantic Forest species and genomes in the region.
Flora, water and fauna
Since this is an innovative experiment in the country, all the work of the Instituto Terra has been based on research and experimentation on a ‘learn as you go’ basis. But we can already identify some of the fruits of this work.
By halting erosion of the soil, the replanting the ground cover at the PNHR Bulcão Farm is fostering a revival of the farm’s water resources - both in quantity and quality. The eight natural springs on the farm have been come alive and, even in times of drought, they now flow at a rate of some 20 liters per minute.
Native species of trees planted in an area that was completely degraded have been chosen with the aim of creating a forest of high biomass and diversity.
Fauna are turning: many species that were disappearing now find a secure home in Balcão Farm.
Among birds, 172 species have been identified, of which six are in danger of extinction: the Amazona rhodocorytha (Red-browed Amazon Parrot); the Amazona vinacea (Red-breasted parrot); the Campephilus robustus (Robust Woodpecker); the Procnias nudicollis (Bellbird); Propyrrhura maracana (Blue Winged Macaw) and, finally, the Sicalis flaveola (Saffron Finch).
There are 33 species of mammals, two of which are in the process of world-wide extinction (classified as ‘vulnerable’): the Callicebus personatus (Atlantic or masked Titi monkey); and the Puma concolor (Puma, mountain lion or panther). Another three are in danger of extinction in Brazil: The Leopardus pardalis (dwarf leopard); the Leopardus tigrinus (small tiger cat) and the Puma concolor (Puma, mountain lion or Panther).
There are also 15 species of amphibians; 15 species of reptiles; and 293 species of plants.
Production of seedlings
In both the internal planting of the PNHR Bulcão Farm as in the external projects, the seedlings used today are all grown in the conservatory of the Instituto Terra. Its first greenhouse, with an annual capacity for 80,000 seedlings, was donated in 2001 by “SOS Mata Atlántica” and by the Brazilian branch of Conservation International. In 2002, the Ministry for the Environment financed the extension of the nursery to give it an annual capacity of 400,000 seedlings.
In 2008, as a result of the agreement established with the Government of Minas Gerais, through the Water Basin Fund for Sustainable Recuperation, Protection and Development, a new expansion was started in order to guarantee an annual production of one million seedlings.
The seeds used are collected within a 125-mile radius of Bulcão Farm and have resulted in the production of over 290 Atlantic Forest species that are now being developed in the nursery. By December, 2012, the Instituto Terra had produced over 4 million native seedlings.
Having decided to create the Instituto Terra in 1998, its founders – Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado and Sebastião Salgado – sought recognition of the property as a Private Nature Heritage Reserve (PNHR). That same year, the Bulcão Farm received the first ever environmental license granted to a Natural Heritage Reserve of Humanity in a devastated and damaged region - an area where not a single stretch of forest could be preserved, a place where work had to start from scratch.
This was elaborated in 1998 by the renowned forestry engineer, Renato de Jesus, who at the time was responsible for the reforestation projects of the Brazilian company, VALE. The project’s initial objectives remain the Instituto Terra’s guiding principles to this day: reforestation, education and research.
The Brazilian Fund for Biodiversity (FUNBIO) proposed a system of joint financing: it offered to match every dollar invested by any other interested party. In other words, it pledged to cover fifty percent of the initial budget – and it started by providing $500,000 – so long as the Salgados came up with a similar amount. NATURA, a Brazilian cosmetics firm, and the regional government of Asturias in Spain donated funds to set the project in motion. Additional financing was provided by the Lannan Foundation, the Tides Foundation and other organizations and individuals in the United States.
In the first years of planting, which began in 1999, the Natural Reserve of VALE supplied the seedlings. This partnership lasted until 2002, when planting began with some of the seedlings now produced in the Institute’s own conservatory.
The first planting at the Bulcão Farm was carried out by pupils from the schools of Aimorés, Minas Gerais. This awakened the interest of the local inhabitants and marked the beginning of a close relationship with the community.
With space to grow 80,000 seedlings per year, our first nursery was donated by “SOS Mata Atlántica” and by the Brazilian branch of Conservation International. In 2002, the Ministry for the Environment financed the extension of the nursery to give it an annual capacity of 400,000 seedlings. And in 2008, the Fund for Recuperation, Protection and Sustainable Development of the Water Basins of the State of Minas Gerais, FHIDRO, funded the further enlargement of the conservatory into one able to produce one million seedlings a year.