Biosphere Reserves are organised through the Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

UNESCO was established in 1971 with the aim of promoting interdisciplinary approaches to management, research and education in ecosystem conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

South Africa signed up to the international MAB programme in 1998 and the first biosphere reserve, Kogelberg was established in the same year. The Department of Environmental Affairs became the responsible entity dealing with UNESCO and MAB and provides the platform for biosphere reserves to plug into the programme and the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

There are now 10 biosphere reserves in South Africa


(Department of Environmental Affairs, 2019)

South African Biosphere Reserves are recognised as special landscapes where socio-ecological land management is practised towards as more sustainable future for all.

Map showing biosphere reserves in South Africa

These 10 biosphere reserves occupy 9.5% of South Africa a total of 115 732 km2.

South Africa Biosphere Reserve 2016 – 2020 strategy

1. To enhance the conservation of biodiversity and cultural heritage, maintain ecosystem services and foster the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources.

2. To explore, develop, support, and study thriving sustainable societies, economies, and human settlements respecting the web of life on which they depend.

3. To promote the understanding of the impact of environmental changes, including climatic change, and development and support mitigation and adaptation actions.

Diagram illustrates the interrelatedness of natural elements of the biosphere and the action or outcomes (blue) that form part of the Biosphere Reserve Strategy

Specific outcomes for South African Biosphere Reserves

1. Offer a solution for collaboration landscape management and decision making.

2. Take a multi-stakeholder approach to solution development.

3. Foster dialogue for conflict resolution of sustainable natural resource utilization.

4. Integrate culture and biodiversity

5. Demonstrate sound sustainable development practices

6. Provide sites of excellence for education, training and research

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Values Generated Through Biosphere Reserves
A history of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere South Africa by Ruida Stanvliet