The Atlantic Forest holds the sad title of being considered one of the most threatened biomes on the planet. Home of 20 thousand species of plants and world natural heritage site by UNESCO, the Atlantic Forest originally covered more than 1.36 million square kilometres of Brazilian territory. Of this total, only 8.5% of its vegetation cover remains.
However, the green of a portion of the Atlantic Forest has been restored in an area deforested with the soil completely degraded by the inappropriate use of natural resources. Water springs that were at risk of drying out began to gush water again, and species of Brazilian fauna, at risk of extinction, found an oasis of well-being and protection for living beings native to the region. All this landscape transformation took place in just over a decade, on an old cattle farm located in the city of Aimorés-MG, transformed into the Private Natural Heritage Reserve “Fazenda Bulcão” where is located the headquarters of Instituto Terra.
Founded in April 1998, at the initiative of the couple Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado and Sebastião Salgado, Instituto Terra is a non-profit civil organization focused on forest restoration and sustainable development in the Vale do Rio Doce - region originally covered by the Atlantic Forest, which covers municipalities in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, bathed by the Rio Doce Hydrographic Basin, one of the most important in the Southeast of Brazil and where more than four million people live with the consequences of deforestation, especially water scarcity.
Having assumed the initial commitment to reforest the Fazenda Bulcão area, Instituto Terra focused on forming a team of people committed to environmental conservation, including residents of the region and technicians from all parts of Brazil. The first planting was carried out in November 1999, when it counted on the participation mainly of students from schools in the municipality of Aimorés, in Minas Gerais. Today, the NGO greatest purpose is to share with the surrounding community all the knowledge acquired in the environmental restoration of the 608.69 hectares of a degraded area.
Instituto Terra is dedicated to diverse projects, always in resonance with its main lines of action, which are: the maintenance of native biodiversity, the maintenance and sustainable development of traditional and rural communities, and the conservation and ecological development of the Rio Doce valley. To achieve this goal, it develops projects that range from forest restoration and protection of springs to applied scientific research and environmental education.
Financial support comes from different partners, both from the government and private sectors, as well as from individual donors from various countries and other Third Sector institutions. In addition to helping maintain the RPPN Fazenda Bulcão conservation unit, with a botanical garden project open to visitors free of charge, sponsorships also enable projects that involve the restoration of conservation areas, applied scientific research and constant environmental education which includes the rural-ecological training of local young people and support for the ecological development of residents in their surroundings, including traditional communities, from small farmers to indigenous peoples.
Below are some of the results obtained by the environmental NGO, which in April 2020 completed 22 years of operation.
To cover the area with green, Instituto Terra has already planted more than two million trees. The planted forest is already home to 293 tree species originating from the Atlantic Forest. Planting continues to be carried out in these areas as a strategy to maintain and optimize local biodiversity and guarantee the sustainability and possibility of expansion of this Atlantic biome. In these plantations, new species, mainly attractive to the native fauna, will be inserted, increasing diversity.
Instituto Terra's nursery has produced in its history more than 6 million seedlings of native species of the Atlantic Forest, which associated with the knowledge of technologies for environmental restoration of degraded areas, have enabled Instituto Terra to contribute to numerous reforestation projects. Those projects have restored approximately 21.1 million square meters of degraded areas of Atlantic Forest.
Ornamental species also come out of the nursery, which provides resources both for reforestation projects, for embellish area of public use and for the local society, which seeks the beauty of the plants and flowers of the Atlantic Forest to decorate their own houses or rural properties. In order to increase access and affection for biodiversity with society, Instituto Terra also maintains a botanical garden rich in flowering species and attracting birds and insects, easily accessible to the community.
To cover the area with green, Instituto Terra has already planted more than two million trees. The planted forest is already home to 293 tree species originating from the Atlantic Forest.
The animals were quick to find a safe haven in the young forest of the RPPN Fazenda Bulcão, including endangered species. Monitoring of fauna allowed the identification of 172 bird species in the area (six of them threatened with extinction); 33 species of mammals (two of which are endangered in the world and three others endangered in Brazil); 15 species of amphibians and 15 species of reptiles.
Due to the increase in fauna in the RPPN Bulcão in recent years, priority is given to planting species that support the growth of these populations of wild animals, in order to maintain the objectives of conserving local biodiversity.
Associated with the restoration of the soil, the restoration of vegetation cover also helped to promote the rescue of water resources, with the recovery of the old farm’s springs that were in danger of drying out. It was from this experience that Instituto Terra started the Olhos D’Água Program (Eyes of Water Program) in 2010, with the goal of protecting and revitalizing all the Rio Doce’s springs. The program has already covered 20 municipalities in Minas Gerais and eight in Espírito Santo, with the protection of nearly 2,000 springs of affluent rivers in this important hydrographic basin. Due to its execution model, Olhos D´Água was recognized by UN-Water and by the National Water Agency (ANA) as one of the best practices being implemented in Brazil to guarantee the revitalization of water resources and the future supply of water.
Instituto Terra has a Seed Laboratory, where it conducts research and organizes technical information on the entire process of producing Atlantic Forest seedlings from seed. All this knowledge is available to the public, free of charge, on the Semear Portal (www.portalsemear.org). A pioneering initiative in Brazil, the portal was supported by the National Bank for Economic and Social Development, through the BNDES Atlantic Forest Initiative.
In partnership with universities and research institutions around the world, Instituto Terra receives graduate students from areas related to its sphere of action and assists in the conduct of these studies, in order to contribute to the evolution of the region's environmental knowledge.
Since the beginning, Instituto Terra has been promoting environmental awareness in the region, supported by forest recovery and conservation in a way associated with agricultural production, with a view to improving the quality of life in rural areas. Environmental education projects have already served more than 80 thousand people, including farmers, students, teachers, community leaders, professionals and technicians from companies and governments active in the environmental issue, as well as the population of the communities served.
One of the main actions developed in this area is training in the recovery of degraded areas of the Atlantic Forest and protection of springs. Since 2005, the NGO has already 192 technicians, who are now able to act as agents of sustainable rural development, helping small rural producers in their home cities. With the offer of 20 places annually, the course works at the Center for Studies in Ecosystem Restoration (NERE), a specific structure at RPPN Fazenda Bulcão that has the capacity to accommodate students for free during the training period, which lasts one year.
Present and future challenges
The defence of environmental conservation and the maintenance of the communities present along the Rio Doce remain central to Instituto Terra's actions. In this sense, it seeks to foster a conservationist vision in the minds of rural producer and traditional communities in the region. Our goal is to spreading knowledge about agroecology as an alternative form of production for rural producers in which ally sustainability with the maintenance of their crops. In this way, they will guarantee not only your daily income through sustainable production but the conservation of your natural resources, which can be managed by your future generations.
The Doce River with its 853 kilometres of extension, one of the largest rivers in Brazil and of great importance for the economy and regional sustainability in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais, has the characteristic of having its entire bed inserted in the Atlantic Forest biome.
The river was the responsible for the dissemination of seeds and propagation of animals throughout Minas Gerais and the Espírito Santo States, making the Atlantic Forest an integral part of the river's life, serving as food for fish and animals, providing shade, regulating evaporation of water by the sun and protecting its bed and its margins from erosive processes, by retaining and filtering the land that comes with rainwater. The Atlantic Forest is a formation that has its dynamics parallel to that of the river, with interconnected functions, which support each other as in a biotic relationship which we call commensalism (when there is an interaction between living beings in which all parties win).
Recovering a native forest requires knowledge, investment and time. Therefore, in order to recover a degraded forest environment, it is necessary to bring, from another similar and non-degraded environment, the natural resources of each ecosystem, that is, representatives of the species that fit or were originally present in the area.
Restore an ecosystem in such a late stage of degradation is not an easy task, but it is a challenge that Instituto Terra is willing, and proud, to take.