The following “Guiding principles” for projects on biosphere reserves and were endorsed by the MAB International Council in 2002.

MAB National Committees are encouraged to use these “guiding principles” in planning and designing projects for biosphere reserves.

Why projects concerning biosphere reserves?

Biosphere reserves have four specific functions, being –

  • conservation,
  • sustainable development,
  • research and monitoring,
  • training and education

Many biosphere reserve authorities, and especially those in developing countries and in transition countries, do not have the capacity nor the resources to enable them to meet this global mandate.

Countries and biosphere reserve authorities are therefore encouraged to seek funding in the form of projects and/or endowment funds from appropriate donor countries, multilateral funding sources (such as UNDP, GEF), regional development banks or agencies and, in certain cases, the private sector.

South Africa, and all other participating countries have their own national priorities in the broad field of environment and development. However, projects which focus geographically on sites which are biosphere reserves, have to mention of the biosphere reserve status explicitly.


UNESCO’s financial resources and staff to help with project development design and implementation are limited.

UNESCO however is the best placed institution for offering technical guidance and scientific advice as to the orientation of the project, for helping to identify suitable funding sources and for providing supporting letters.

The UNESCO Field Offices are particularly well placed to advise countries and help the regional biosphere reserve networks to develop and apply for projects and to build synergistic links with relevant ongoing and planned activities in the region.

UNESCO Offices can act as a catalyst to build partnerships amongst national authorities, biosphere reserve management, other projects and programmes and the private sector.  Also, these Offices can also help to improve the information flow, to ensure that MAB National Committees are aware of initiatives for projects.

Priority for projects on biosphere reserves

Priority should be given to  and to projects which implement the recommendations for specific biosphere reserves resulting from the periodic review of the Statutory Framework.

Projects should also be sought to implement the recommendations of the regional biosphere reserve networks, especially to create new biosphere reserves in under-represented areas and Transboundary Biosphere Reserves.

Content and orientation of projects

Projects on biosphere reserves should give emphasis to UNESCO’s mandate in education, science and culture, and to the MAB approach, promoting the integration of the natural and the social sciences.

Attention should be paid to cultural sensitivity, participation and benefits for local communities, tailoring scientific research to resolve natural resource use problems; fostering dialogue amongst different stakeholders, conflict resolution, biodiversity education and awareness raising, and training of specialists.

Preference should be given to relatively small-scale projects with a long-term, holistic view, and the building up local and national capacity for land and water management and sustainable development.

Modalities for project execution

Project execution should whenever possible be the responsibility of the national or local institutions, and preference should be given to calling on experts and NGOs from the country or region concerned.

In certain cases, some biosphere reserve authorities request, or are solicited to become recipient of, a number of projects funded by different bodies, with different objectives. For this, the biosphere reserve authority is encouraged to use the biosphere reserve as an integrating and coordinating mechanism giving coherence and direction to these various activities.

Capitalise on formal existence of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves

The WNBR is the only intergovernmental network of sites of its kind devoted to meeting conservation, sustainable development and scientific co-operation objectives.

It formally exists through the adoption of the Statutory Framework for the World Network of Biosphere Reserves by the UNESCO General Conference in 1995 (under 28C/Resolution 2.4). Projects on biosphere reserves should use their status as members of the WNBR as an  attestation to their international importance and a guarantee to their long-term commitment to international conservation and sustainable development efforts.

Use the Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves and Seville + 5 recommendations

These are the technical orientations for the work of the WNBR, resulting from international expert meetings (Seville 1995 and Pamplona in 2000) and endorsed by UNESCO and the MAB International Coordinating Council.

They are therefore government-endorsed recommended actions at the site, national and international levels, which can serve to guide and justify specific projects involving biosphere reserves. The Seville Strategy implementation indicators should be used as part of the results-based project design and implementation.

Capitalise on the MAB structures: MAB National Committees  and the MAB Council

MAB National Committees or Focal Points should proactively work with the GEF National Focal Points, the UNDP Resident Representatives and national contacts for the various development banks and/or regional economic development bodies, and/or the private sector to develop projects involving biosphere reserves.

The MAB National Committees should also serve as a technical body for ensuring quality control, transparency and accountability. It should also ensure appropriate liaisons amongst government authorities, academics and NGOs at the national level, as well as correspondents with the MAB National Committees of other countries.

In turn, the MAB Council and its Bureau can be attributed with being responsible for continually monitoring and evaluating the overall implementation of the MAB Programme and the development of the WNBR, again giving an assurance on longterm commitment and quality control.

Take advantage of the regional  MAB and Biosphere Reserve networks

Although these regional networks differ in size, structure and operations, every effort should be taken to use the planned meetings, training courses, publications and web sites of these networks for information exchanges and capacity building.

The regional biosphere reserve networks offer the added values of providing a framework for activities in a number  of sites within similar ecological and/or cultural systems, often providing a gradient of  parameters.

They are tailor-made for facilitating exchanges and pooling of resources, and they can address the application of the ecosystem approach in “bioregions”, and building large-scale ecological corridors.

Use biosphere reserves as tools for implementing the main Environmental Conventions

Convention on Biological Diversity: projects should build on the fact that MAB’s emphasis on the ecosystem approach and sustainable use of the landscape fits well with the aims of the Convention.

Ramsar Wetland Convention:  a joint Ramsar -MAB workplan has been elaborated by the Secretariats, under which a selection of sites with both BR and Ramsar status have been proposed, giving synergy to this work.

UN Convention on Combating Desertification: biosphere reserves have been identified as offering pilot sites for testing out and demonstrating approaches to desertification  UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD): biosphere reserves can be site-based tools for integrated land management and can be used for testing out and demonstrating approaches to combating desertification. To this end, a joint project is being developed by UNESCO-MAB, the United Nations University (UNU) and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) entitled “Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands”.  Using an interregional comparative approach, this project focuses on some  biosphere reserves in Northern Africa and Asia, as well as similarly managed areas, with a view to rehabilitate degraded drylands in buffer and transition zones using relatively undisturbed core areas as reference sites for potential natural vegetation.

World Heritage Convention: Certain core areas of biosphere reserves meet the criteria  of outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Convention: the presence of a buffer zone and an outer transition area, and particularly the focus of biosphere reserves on people’s participation, serve to reinforce the protection necessary for World Heritage.

Biosphere Reserves in the follow up to  the International Year of Mountains (IYM)  (2002)

Of particular importance to biosphere reserves is the “Mountain Research Initiative” by IGBP, IHDP and GTOS in which mountain biosphere reserves could be used as monitoring sites for assessing the impact of global change.

Moreover, the new initiative of UNESCO, IUCN and WWF on the importance of natural sacred sites for biodiversity conservation will include mountain biosphere reserves to explore the mechanisms of culture-based environmental conservation.

Biosphere reserves and the follow up to the International Year on Ecotourism (IYE) (2002)

Under the auspices of the CBD, a draft set of “International Guidelines for activities related to sustainable tourism development in vulnerable terrestrial, marine and coastal, and mountain ecosystems” were drawn up in 2001.

These make explicit references to the biosphere reserve concept and to the WNBR.

 Magaliesberg Biosphere

© 2015 Magaliesberg Biosphere - A Section 21 Company. All Rights Reserved.  Logo and Slogan are copyright protected.
All images and content © the original authors/owners as stipulated.