Thousands of years ago, humans populated the mountainous areas of Lesotho to live with and through nature. No organisations or laws were needed to ensure future generations would be able to live off the same resources as their parents. Nowadays, many of these resources are in danger of expiring, people no longer live with, but rather against nature. The environment is polluted, ecosystems are strained. Yet, most of the time, this is a result of companies originating elsewhere exploiting nature to maximise their profit, while posing a threat to those small and marginalised communities, who continue to live within the carrying capacity of their environment.
In order to counteract these developments and to protect natural resources, fencing in some of these became a necessary measure. This this meant, however, that the very communities whose livelihoods depend on these resources did not have access to them, which created further conflict between humans and nature. As a way to resolve this conflict, UNESCO has established the “Man and the Biosphere Reserve” (MAB) Programme, which includes over 600 designated sites in 119 countries.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are a lot more than areas where nature is preserved. In contrast to other protected areas, they aim to strengthen the relationship between humans and nature by being global models for sustainable community development. This means that the socio-economic development of local communities is equally important as nature preservation and cultural identities are valued and sustained. Biosphere Reserves provide opportunities, rather than impose restrictions. The most distinguishing feature is their zonation into core, buffer and transitional areas. They serve functions like scientific research, monitoring of species and education. Through educating the future generation and integrating locals, true sustainable development can be achieved. The UNESCO MAB Programme enables a unique approach to finding a balance between conservation and a rational usage of resources, with the goal of harmonising the relationship between people and nature.
In addition to the benefits of being global spearheads for sustainable development, UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognised sites that attract tourists from all over the world. While creating job opportunities in tourism, green industries, they can also significantly increase the income generated from agriculture as tourists will be willing to buy locally produced products.
Despite being a country of unique landscapes, vibrant ecological systems and a long cultural tradition of Basotho living with and through their environment, Lesotho has not been able to establish a Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO MAB Programme so far. However, Lesotho National Commission for UNESCO (LNCU) is determined to change that and to establish one in the country within the next five years. In order to do so, a National MAB Committee consisting of representatives of all relevant ministries, scientific experts and other stakeholders was formed. The committee meets regularly to discuss progress and to work towards Lesotho’s first official Biosphere Reserve.
LNCU has been supported in their endeavours financially as well as logistically by the German Commission for UNESCO. Since Germany is home to 15 Biosphere Reserves already, it has taken on a global leadership role in the MAB Programme. Seeing Lesotho’s continuous and determined efforts to create a Biosphere Reserve, they agreed to support a subregional meeting on the implementation of the MAB Programme to be held in Lesotho from 5th to 8th of March 2018. In this meeting, representatives of all UNESCO National Commissions and MAB Committees of the following countries of Southern Africa; Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi will come together in Lesotho to exchange knowledge, experiences and to build capacities for the establishment of Biosphere Reserves in the region.
LNCU hopes that this meeting will provide Lesotho’s National MAB Committee with sufficient experience and expertise and thus soon pave the way for Lesotho’s first ever Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO’s MAB Programme.
Meeting of Lesotho's National MAB Committee in February 2018: