Governance in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves Project Activities

Examining the Governance Models of two South African Biosphere Reserves

This research examines the governance models of two South African biosphere reserves, the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region (K2C) and the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve  (GCBR) which are deemed successful, in order to highlight innovative approaches they have developed to govern these biosphere reserves. It considers the decision structures, operational procedures and the networking and collaboration structures of each biosphere reserve’s governance model. The interactions of these three components impacts on the adaptability and responsiveness of the biosphere reserve to the needs of different stakeholders and to changes in the socio-ecological environment.

Although some research has been conducted on governance models in biosphere reserves, literature on biosphere reserve governance models is limited and lessons learned are poorly recorded. Knowledge and information sharing between biosphere reserves will allow biosphere reserves to learn form each other and to benefit from each others experiences, especially in terms of governance. There is thus a need and opportunity to contribute to the knowledge base of biosphere reserves, especially in terms of the governance of biosphere reserves and the different approaches thereto.

This research project thus aims to extract and highlight the governance models and innovations employed by two South African biosphere reserves in order to share this with the broader Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB Programme) and thus contribute to the knowledge base on biosphere reserve governance.

As part of the literature review, the guidance on governance and management that is provided to biosphere reserves through literature from the national and international MAB Programme documents, was reviewed. Data collection was comprised of interviews with board members of the two biosphere reserves. Topics include the role and focus of the biosphere reserve, the governance model and decision-making processes and the stakeholder relationships and stakeholder involvement in the biosphere reserve and in decision-making. The interviews were analysed using qualitative thematic coding.

Numerous themes have been identified through the thematic analysis, such as approaches to include stakeholders in the biosphere reserve and in decision-making, situations in which stakeholders should or should not be involved in decision-making, different approaches to fill board positions, different perspectives on building relationships with government or corporate entities, the inclusion of universities in decision-making and strong points of the biosphere reserves’ current or previous governance models.

This research is in progress. It is being undertaken as Masters research at the University of the Witwatersrand by Mrs. Irene Groenewald  under the supervision of  Drs Kaera Coetzer (Wits), Ruida Pool-Stanvliet (Cape Nature) and Professor Coleen Vogel (Wits)