Biodiversity & SANBI Mandate


The term biodiversity refers to genes, species (plants and animals), ecosystems, and landscapes, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that allow these elements of biodiversity to persist over time. South Africa's biodiversity provides an important basis for economic growth and development, in obvious ways such as providing a basis for our fishing industry, rangelands that support commercial and subsistence farming, horticultural and agricultural industry based on indigenous species, our tourism industry, aspects of our film industry, and commercial and non-commercial medicinal applications of indigenous resources. Keeping our biodiversity intact is also vital for ensuring ongoing provision of ecosystem services such as production of clean water though good catchment management, prevention of erosion, carbon storage (to counteract global warming), and clean air. Loss of biodiversity puts aspects of our economy and quality of life at risk, and reduces socio-economic options for future generations.

People are ultimately fully dependent on living, functioning ecosystems and the services they provide. Loss of biodiversity leads to ecosystem degradation and subsequent loss of important services, which tends to harm the rural poor more directly-poor people have limited assets and are more dependent on common property resources for their livelihoods, whilst the wealthy are buffered against loss of ecosystem services by being able to purchase basic necessities and scarce commodities. Our path towards sustainable development, poverty reduction and enhanced human well-being for all, is therefore dependent on how effectively we conserve biodiversity.


South Africa is diverse not simply in terms of our people and culture, but also in terms of our biological resources and ecology. In fact, South Africa is the third most biologically diverse country in the world, after Indonesia and Brazil. South Africa occupies about 2% of the world's land area, but is home to nearly 1 0% of the world's plants and 7% of the reptiles, birds and mammals. We have three globally recognised biodiversity hotspots; the Cape Floristic Region, which falls entirely within our boundaries: the Succulent Karoo, shared with our neighbour Namibia, and Maputaland- Pondoland, shared with Mozambique and Swaziland. Our seas straddle three oceans, the Atlantic, the Indian and the Southern Ocean, and include an exceptional range of habitats, from cool-water kelp forests to tropical reefs. The southern African coast is home to almost 15% of known coastal marine species, providing a rich source of nutrition and supporting livelihoods of coastal communities.


The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) was formed in 2004 with the promulgation of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (No. 10 of 2004). With the commencement of this Act, the National Botanical Institute (NBI), as from 1 September 2004, became SANBI. The Forest Act, 1984 (Act No. 122 of 1984) was repealed by this Act.

The functions of the Institute are as follows. SANBI:

(a) must monitor and report to the Minister on

i. The status of the Republic's biological diversity

ii. The conservation status of all listed threatened or protected species and listed ecosystems

iii. The status of all listed invasive species

(b) must monitor and report regularly to the Minister on the impacts of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have been released into the environment

(c) may act as an advisory and consultative body on matters relating to biodiversity to organs of state and other biodiversity stakeholders

(d) must coordinate and promote the taxonomy of South Africa's biodiversity

(e) must manage, control and maintain all national botanical gardens

(f) may establish, manage, control and maintain

i. herbaria; and

ii. collections of dead animals that exist;

(g) must establish facilities for horticultural display, environmental education, visitor amenities and research;

(h) must establish, maintain, protect and preserve collections of plants in national botanical gardens and herbaria;

(i) may establish, maintain, protect and preserve collections of animals and micro-organisms in appropriate enclosures;

(j) must collect, generate , process, co-ordinate and disseminate information about biodiversity, and establish and maintain databases in this regard;

(k) may allow, regulate or prohibit access by the public to national botanical gardens, herbaria and other places under the control of the Institute;

(1) may undertake and promote research on indigenous biodiversity and the sustainable use of indigenous biological resources;

(m) may coordinate and implement programmes for

i. the rehabilitation of ecosystems, and

ii. the prevention, control or eradication of listed invasive species

(n) may coordinate programmes to involve civil society in

i. the conservation and sustainable use of indigenous biological resources; and

ii. the rehabilitation of ecosystems;

(o) on the Minister's request, must assist him or her in the performance of duties and the exercise of powers assigned to the Minister in terms of this Act;

(p) on the Minister's request, must advise him or her on any matter regulated in terms of this Act, including

i. the implementation of this Act and any international agreements affecting biodiversity which are binding on the Republic;

ii. the identification of bioregions and the contents of any bioregional plans;

iii. other aspects of biodiversity planning;

iv. the management and conservation of biological diversity; and

v. the sustainable use of indigenous biological resources;

(q) on the Minister's request, must advise him or her on the declaration and management of, and development in, national protected areas; and

(r) must perform any other duties

i. assigned to it in terms of the Act; or

ii. as may be prescribed.


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