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The VBR aims to balance the conservation of the area's uniquely bio-diverse environment, while simultaneously supporting and promoting much-needed sustainable development for its largely rural population. This online portal is the culmination of years of collaboration and partnerships in the area and across the world and marks a new chapter in a Post-Covid world where the fourth industrial revolution uses technology to create connection and ideate solutions for our biodiversity areas.


“Biosphere Reserves are established in recognition of the relationship between man and the natural world.” and this UNESCO Biosphere concept laid the foundation for the Vision and Mission of the Vhembe Biosphere to achieve the objectives of protecting the incredible biodiversity within the Soutpansberg while effectively demonstrating to all stakeholders and in particular the many poor local communities in the region, the benefits of conservation.

Our vision is to create a biosphere region where the voices of our diverse stakeholders are heard, where we give voice to the voiceless; our sacred lands, living cultural heritage, flora and fauna. The VBR visualizes a region of balance between Man and Biosphere, between human needs and the needs of our unique and diverse environment. 


The VBR is here to partner, facilitate and foster longevity with all to make sure continuity, sustainability and regeneration occurs. 


The Soutpansberg is one of the least known but most bio-diverse areas in Southern Africa but unfortunately there was no legislative protection of this hidden wonder. This led to a move by a group of landowners in the Western Soutpansberg to establish the Soutpansberg Conservancy in the mid 1990’s. It soon became clear that there was a need for a much broader vision for the entire sub-region, which had to include the entire spectrum of stakeholders.


The definition of development in the context of a Biosphere is to “foster economic development, which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.” All Biospheres therefore accept and encourage development within their areas. Historically environmentalists were prone to draw a "hard-line" boundary between areas of environmental sensitivity and areas of development but Biospheres are more flexible instruments that encourage a greater degree of flexibility incorporating within each of the Core, Buffer and Transition Zones, sub-zones that are "critically sensitive, "sensitive" and "non-sensitive."  The Vhembe Biosphere Reserve also aims to foster support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.  


The Vhembe Biosphere Reserve includes the Mapungubwe National Park and Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site, the Makgabeng Plateau with its outstanding concentration of San rock art, the Blouberg and Soutpansberg mountain ranges with their remarkable biological diversity and endemism, the semi-arid Limpopo River Valley with its unique floristic and faunal composition, and the sub-tropical northern part of the Greater Kruger National Park with its high diversity of ecosystem types and species, vast floodplains and associated unique habitats and species.

The reserve consists of three biomes, namely savannah, grassland and forest, with four bioregions home to 23 different vegetation types or biotopes. Eight of these biotopes are endemic to South Africa. The area also constitutes a bio-geographical node comprising the Kalahari and Lowveld bioregions, which are characterized by temperate and tropical climatic conditions. These zones also feature a wide range of ecologically important interactions that need to be protected to ensure conservation viability.


Vhembe Biosphere Reserve partners come from a diverse cross-section of society from grassroots households, community based organisations, provincial, national governments as well as international institutions and organisations like UNESCO.

As the VBR falls within the Greater Mapungubwe and Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Areas which are international cross sector  agreements involving South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana governments, the VBR is termed a ‘Smart Biosphere Reserve’. This means that the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve collaborates with many national and international conservation programmes, such as World Heritage Sites, Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA), Ramsar Sites, Stewardship Programmes and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

At a local level, the VBR prioritises partnerships between community structures, the private sector, and Government in order to share knowledge and to cooperate on natural resource management. The VBR further  interacts locally and collaboratively with the Kruger to Canyon Biosphere Reserve; the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve and the Mapungubwe National Park, a World Heritage Site situated in one of the Core zones of the VBR.

In order to jointly promote the sustainable utilization of the region  for the benefit of all its inhabitants, it is crucial to empower local communities to take responsibility for the development and conservation functions of the areas in which they live in a manner that contributes towards their economic upliftment, thus ensuring the long-term sustainable conservation and simultaneous development of the VBR.

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