The Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) was started and now managed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – UNESCO. This intergovernmental scientific programme, launched in 1971 by UNESCO, aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.

Through the programme biospheres are internationally recognised for their importance for biological and cultural diversity, and support to sustainable economic development. They connect people to nature through environmental education, research and as demonstration sites for managing the complexity of people, development and nature. The end aim is to ensure the well-being of society today and for the future.

Connecting people and nature

This special designation is awarded by UNESCO but managed in partnership by communities, NGOs and local and national governments. Its aims are achieved by local people working together.

Through the MAB programme UNESCO has established a network in order to share information, lessons learnt and solutions to challenges. It is also a mechanism to monitor the impact Biospheres are having on the planet.

There is a global network of 669 Biospheres in 120 countries (2018).

All the biosphere In the MAB programme have three main goals that need to be achieved.

1. Conservation: promoting the protection of landscapes, habitats, wildlife and cultural values

2. Sustainable development: fostering a sustainable economy and society for people living and working in the area

3. Learning: supporting education and research, for a better understanding of nature and global issues


Biosphere reserves came into existence as a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach to humanities greatest challenge. Meeting the needs and aspirations of an increasing number of people while conserving the very foundations that make life and society possible; the Earth’s natural resources.


Not only MUST we meet the needs of a growing population but we HAVE to end poverty and hunger, create equality for all, and provide quality education, safe, healthy and clean living spaces and sustainable, fair livelihoods in the process.


This is why biosphere reserves have a critical conservation theme but people are central to the biosphere focus.


It will take action from every individual to achieve a thriving global society; biosphere reserves provide a platform for individuals to contribute and make a difference.


As Earth citizens we are all responsible.

Outcomes for 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 utilisation

4. Integrate culture and biodiversity

5. Demonstrate sound sustainable development practices

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


Taken from The UNESCO MAB Programme in South Africa: Values generated through Biosphere Reserves  |  Feb 2019