Finland supports the Magaliesberg Biosphere Area which aims at sustainably balanced relationship between people and the environment. The initiative took a step forward in early June when the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism organised a launching ceremony.
For over a decade Finland has been part of a co-operation scheme between Finnish and South African environmental administrations. The latest, still on-going, mutual effort has been the Support to Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative. The Initiative has been supported through an Institutional Cooperation Instrument (ICI) project financed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
The cooperation is based on exchange of experiences and knowledge between the experts of the Finnish Environment Institute, the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Central Finland and the Gauteng and North West Province administrations in South Africa. The project has aimed at creating a new biosphere reserve in the Magaliesberg mountain area situated in the two provinces. There are already six existing biospheres in South Africa and two in Finland. The establishment process of Lake Päijänne-Vesijärvi biosphere in Finland has also benefited from the ICI-project.
Biosphere reserves are areas internationally recognised within the framework of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme of the UNESCO. It is an innovative and sustainable approach to managing land and water resources across landscapes made up of one or more bioregions. Biospheres aim at improving livelihoods, enhancing social, economic and cultural conditions, and contributing towards environmental sustainability through means of consolidated land-use guidance and environmentally sound demonstration projects.
The Magaliesberg mountain area is situated about 100 km to the north-west of the City of Johannesburg. It has a rich history and biodiversity that forms an important part of the natural and cultural heritage of South Africa. The habitat variety supports more than 130 tree species, 90 mammal species, 80 reptile and amphibian species, and over 450 bird species. The Magaliesberg Mountain along with the Cradle of the Humankind, an area where evidence of the beginning of human race has been traced at, will form the protected core area of the Biosphere.
Many human activities are increasing in the region. Increasing pressures from urbanisation, industrialisation, mining and resulting pollution are major threats to the fragile nature of Magaliesberg.
The zoning of the biosphere defines the allowed and prioritised human activities within the biosphere. A buffer zone usually surrounds the protected core area. In the case of Magaliesberg, voluntary conservancies form the buffer where environmental education, recreation and ecotourism are main activities. The transition zones are areas in which human activities may affect the core and buffer zones and are therefore collaboratively and carefully managed by the various stakeholders to ensure development that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.
The Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative took a significant step forward in the beginning of June 2012 when the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism organised a launching ceremony during which the province and affected stakeholders formally endorsed the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve.
The Premier of the North West Province, Ms. Thandi Modise called on young people to be actively involved in the preservation and conservation of the environment. She urged people to pay attention to the damage being done to the earth and to the impact this would have on future generations.
Premier Modise acknowledged the role of their international funders and partners: "This project could not have been successful without the partnership that we forged with the Finnish Environment institute and Central Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment", she said.
The Chairman of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group, Mr. Vincent Carruthers, also expressed appreciation to the Finnish delegation and the funding which made it possible to complete the research and preparations for the UNESCO biosphere application.
The Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative has nearly reached its main target. The documents for the UNESCO application are being finalised and will be submitted by the national Department for Environmental Affairs to the UNESCO in September. South Africa is expected to celebrate the registration of the Magaliesberg Biosphere in early 2013.