Man and the Biosphere Programme


Emblem of the Man and Biosphere ProgrammeThe origin of Biosphere Reserves goes back to the "Biosphere Conference" organized by UNESCO in 1968. This was the first intergovernmental conference examining how to reconcile the conservation and use of natural resources, thereby foreshadowing the present-day notion of sustainable development. This Conference resulted in the launching of the UNESCO "Man and the Biosphere" (MAB) Programme in 1970.


The 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. 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 vehicles for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.


Establishing this coordinated World Network was one of the first MAB projects. The Network was consisted of sites representing the main ecosystems of the planet in which genetic resources would be protected, and where research on ecosystems as well as monitoring and training work could be carried out. These sites were named as "Biosphere Reserves", in reference to the MAB programme itself.


Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil 3 basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:

  • a conservation function - to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
  • a development function - to foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable;
  • a logistic function - to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.


Waddensea Area, NetherlandsThe MAB governing body, the International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme, usually referred to as the MAB Council or ICC, consists of 34 Member States elected by UNESCO's biennial General Conference. In between meetings, the authority of the ICC is delegated to its Bureau, whose members are nominated from each of UNESCO's geopolitical regions.


The Netherlands has one biosphere reserve: the Waddensea Area, listed in 1986 (photo: Bert Aggenbach, NIOZ).





The official MAB website from UNESCO.

The description of the Dutch biosphere reserve, the Waddensea Area.



Stamp catalogue


Union of Soviet Socialist Republics       19 May 1986









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last revised: 8 February 2008