German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Promoting the SDGs in Southern Africa


Drakensberg, South Africa (© Bettina Hedden-Dunkhorst)
In the photo you can see the partially snow-covered Drakensberg in South Africa. In the foreground a stream between grass and bush land can be seen.

The UNESCO-programme „Man and the Biosphere“ (MAB), founded in 1971, is a suitable instrument for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Model regions for sustainable development are established through the nomination of UNESCO-Biosphere Reserves in the context of the programme. Here, nature conservation, socio-economic development, as well as science and education play crucial roles. Balancing different interests helps to achieve sustainable interactions of humans and nature.

In total, UNESCO has included 669 Biosphere Reserves from 120 states in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Thereby, the MAB-programme - through its World Network of Biosphere Reserves - contributes significantly to the conservation of global biodiversity, while at the same time promoting regional development, contributing to poverty reduction and the safeguarding of peace.

Goal 17 of the SDGs requests all member states to form partnerships for implementing the sustainability goals. In this regard the MAB-Programme is particularly useful, since all member states committed themselves to support the Worldwide Network of Biosphere Reserves. BfN and the German commission for UNESCO supported the development of new Biosphere Reserves on the African continent for many years. 

This project builds on the results of the BfN-project “Supporting the Implementation of UNESCO’s „Man and the Biosphere“ Programme including the Concept of Biosphere Reserve in Southern Africa” which was carried out from 2013 to 2016.

Environmental information and education, Namibia (© Bettina Hedden-Dunkhorst)
The picture shows a man looking at the information panels on environmental information and environmental education.

The Project and its Goals

The potential for regional development and conservation based on Biosphere Reserves is especially high in Southern Africa. However, out of the 82 African Biosphere Reserves only 11 are situated in this region (8 in South Africa, 2 in Malawi, and 1 in Zimbabwe).

Interest and first initiatives for the establishment of Biosphere Reserves exist in almost all Southern African countries. However, they often fail due to institutional barriers. Therefore, the aim of this project to further develop the MAB-Programme in Southern Africa is to achieve close cooperation with and among responsible stakeholders in the partner countries. Especially promising initiatives to establish new Biosphere Reserves in the region are supported.

The project encompasses the following objectives:

  • Contribution to the establishment of new Biosphere Reserves

  • Strengthen the institutional capacities of key actors in the respective countries in Southern Africa for the realisation of the MAB-Programme

  • Better implementation of the MAB-Programme’s ‘Lima-Action plan’ (2016) in Southern Africa

  • Further improved cooperation between Germany, the African Biosphere Reserve Network AfriMAB, and individual African partner countries 

  • Regional networking of the MAB-stakeholders in Southern Africa


In March 2018 a kick-off workshop with respective experts of the region took place in Lesotho. Here, obstacles for the implementation of the MAB-Programme in partner countries were identified and strategies to overcome the problems - including possible support mechanisms - were jointly developed.

Subsequently, further specific measures for strengthening institutional capacities and for establishing Biosphere Reserves in the Region will be stepwise concretised, and processes to further develop the MAB-Programme are supported.

This happens for example through stakeholder consultations, the organisation of training workshops, support for feasibility studies, and through fostering exchange and peer learning for stakeholders, also concerning Biosphere Reserve nomination processes.

Prior to the AfriMAB General Assembly in 2019 another thematic regional workshop will take place. In addition, it is planned to concretize thematic key aspects in four Briefing Notes in order to reach a greater audience. 

Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa (© Bettina Hedden-Dunkhorst)
In the photo you can see a village in Kwa Zulu-Natal with grassland and grazing cows.

Project details

Duration: 12/2017 – 12/2019

Programme: Research and Development 

Target Countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland

Project partners: DUK (German UNESO Commission) together with responsible authorities in the target countries; especially the local UNESCO-Commisions, MAB-National Committees and the African Biosphere Reserve Network (AfriMAB).

Project management at BfN

Dr. Bettina Hedden-Dunkhorst, AG I 2.3, International Nature Conservation

Further information



Last Change: 11/03/2020