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UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) proposes an interdisciplinary research agenda and capacity building aiming to improve the relationship of people with their environment globally. Launched in the early 1970s, it notably targets the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as a vehicle for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.

The MAB Programme develops the basis within the natural and social sciences for the rational and sustainable use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and for the improvement of the overall relationship between people and their environment. It predicts the consequences of today’s actions on tomorrow’s world and thereby increases people’s ability to efficiently manage natural resources for the well-being of both human populations and the environment. 

By focusing on sites internationally recognized within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the MAB Programme strives to: 

  • identify and assess the changes in the biosphere resulting from human and natural activities and the effects of these changes on humans and the environment, in particular in the context of climate change;
  • study and compare the dynamic interrelationships between natural/near-natural ecosystems and socio-economic processes, in particular in the context of the accelerated loss of biological and cultural diversity with unexpected consequences that impact the ability of ecosystems to continue to provide services critical for human well-being;
  • ensure basic human welfare and a liveable environment in the context of rapid urbanization and energy consumption as drivers of environmental change;
  • promote the exchange and transfer of knowledge on environmental problems and solutions, and foster environmental education for sustainable development

Current project 


The Mangrove project

The three-year project seeks to work in six biosphere reserves: Seaflower (Colombia), Península de Guanahacabibes (Cuba), La Encrucijada (Mexico), Macizo del Cajas (Ecuador), Darién (Panama) and Noroeste Amotapes-Manglares (Peru). The project aims for three main objectives:

  • Assess the status of mangrove ecosystems and their potential for restoration
  • Launch a restoration campaign using local knowledge
  • Promote education and awareness for sustainable development...More



Four Biosphere Reserves were selected – Kruger to Canyon, Vhembe, Marico, and Cape Winelands – as pilot projects toward climate change adaptation so that the findings can be scaled up and applied to the country more effectively. The project proposed three lines of actions with associated outcomes:

  • Climate change impact assessment
  • Climate risk monitoring and early warning to support adaptive planning
  • Training and capacity building on the Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis (CRIDA), monitoring and early warning systems, and through Citizen Science...More

Completed project


The objective of the BRESEP Project is to create and strengthen existing biosphere reserves, as a tool of sound innovative practices from a social, cultural and environmental viewpoint, in coastal zones and islands in the Pacific region in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru. This project brings added value to local socio-economic activities and in this way, improves the livelihoods of the region's population.

BRESEP aims to build the capacities of the actors involved and create a collaborative network between the five participating countries to compare information, knowledge and experience on themes such as the loss of biodiversity, marine and coastal management, and improvement in the standard of living of the population through local, sustainable socio-economic activities.

More information: BRESEP 

Project Website: BRESEP

FUST, MAB and Drylands

Drylands and Desertification

Drylands are particularly vulnerable due to climatic variability and human pressures. Deterioration of soil and plant cover has adversely affected 70% of the world's drylands. Moreover, the countries and people most affected by desertification are often those with the least resources. Yet it is possible to combat desertification by sustainably managing drylands, rehabilitating degraded areas, and by educating youth. The MAB drylands programme notably promotes: 

  • On-site dryland field studies;
  • Sharing of scientific expertise among dryland and desertification-affected countries;
  • Conservation of dryland ecosystems using the biosphere reserve approach;
  • Education and capacity-building.

The flagship project of UNESCO-MAB's programme on Drylands and Desertification during phase III was the FUST-funded 'Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands (SUMAMAD)' Project. This project studied sustainable management and conservation of marginal drylands in Africa, Arab States, Asia, and Latin America. The project, which started in 2002, uses harmonized methodologies for 9 selected study sites, allowing results comparing and knowledge sharing. In its second phase (since 2009), scientists from Belgium, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Egypt, India, I.R. of Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, and Tunisia collaborate on dryland research to combat desertification.

Its Overall objectives were:

  • Improved and alternative livelihoods of dryland dwellers;
  • Reduced vulnerability to land degradation in marginal lands through rehabilitation efforts of degraded lands;
  • Improved productivity through identification of wise practices using both traditional knowledge and scientific expertise;
  • Sharing of scientific knowledge among participating countries.

(1) Fostering scientific drylands research: Improvement of dryland agriculture (crop and livestock production) through the sustainable use of natural resources focusing on sustainable water conservation and harvesting practices; Restoration and rehabilitation of degraded drylands focusing on biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural biotic resources.

(2) Preparation of policy-relevant guidelines for decision-makers in drylands: Developing scenarios for land-use changes (also in the context of climate change) including the assessment of trade-offs and economic valuation of dryland services; Interfacing with relevant policy-formulation institutions and processes in the respective countries.

(3) Promoting sustainable livelihoods in drylands: Encouraging alternative income-generating activities - diversification of economic options, such as ecotourism, handicraft production, forages, herbal medicine, dietary diversification, in order to reduce dependencies on traditional dryland agriculture.

In 2009, the project sites focused on specific activities.

The SUMAMAD project was implemented by UNESCO-MAB and executed by the United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).