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Southern Africa

Southern African Sub Global Assessment (SAfMA)

Project Summary

SAfMA is a formal assessment at the sub-global scale, with its own stakeholders and authorizing environment. The assessment was approached as an experiment with studies conducted through assessments at three spatial scales: the entire SADC region, two major river basins (the Gariep and Zambezi), and local communities (Gorongosa-Marromeu in Mozambique, Lesotho, Great Fish River basin, Richtersveld and Gauteng in South Africa). These areas include industrial production systems, urban, agricultural, livestock and forestry production areas, as well as natural vegetation and conservation systems. Assessments were conducted for the period 1960-2000 and scenarios projected to 2030. The assessment was completed in June 2004. Results showed the cultural value of ecosystems rated highly by all communities, and that unequal access to ecosystem resources is a hindrance to sustainable use in the region. At least four of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will not be met in the region unless ecosystem services are stabilized. Integrated management is essential to meet the growing needs of the region.

Assessment Approach

All SAfMA component studies assessed three core ecosystem services: food, water and services linked to biodiversity. Additionally, each assessment addressed issues that were of particular interest to the stakeholders of the individual studies. Basin and regional scale studies relied on existing published material, national and international databases, and modeling approaches, while local-scale assessments were based on participatory methods for collection of primary data. SAfMA also carried out a pilot assessment to determine how best to integrate the results from different scales and approaches. In this regard, SAfMA played a lead role in the MA.

Lead Institutions

SafMA’s Technical Advisory Group was responsible for the design and implementation of the assessment, while the regional stakeholders were represented on the SAfMA Advisory Committee.

Funding for SAfMA was provided by the MA, including a grant from Norway, administered by UNEP.

Contact information

  • Dr Constancia Musvoto
    Natural Resources and the Environment
    P O Box 395
    Pretoria 0001
    South Africa
    Tel: +27 12 841 4856
    Fax: + 27 12 841 3659

Focal Issues

SAfMA assessed the services provided by ecosystems in southern Africa and their impacts on the lives of the region’s people. The assessment explored how local, informal management systems and conventional, formal management systems can be combined to manage ecosystems in ways that ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services in the region. A priority for SAfMA is to develop and test methods to integrate across these scales. SAfMA also focused on ways to collate multi-scale assessment results for use by decision-makers.

Ecosystem services assessed

Freshwater, wood fuel energy, production of stable cereal crops, air and water quality, fisheries, grazing, biodiversity, medicinal plants and wetlands were assessed on multi-spatial scales.

Project Outputs & Results

Because SAfMA was carried out at three different spatial scales, it was able to investigate processes at the scales at which they take place, and to take account of links between scales. Using a multi-scale approach was also useful in ensuring that the perspectives of stakeholders at different scales (e.g. local communities and SADC) are reflected in the conclusions at all spatial scales. SAfMA was a leader within the MA in developing ways to integrate results from different scales.

Results from regional-scale and basin/local-scale assessments varied in some cases. This was primarily due to the effect of averaging aggregated results on the regional level. For example, regional assessments indicated that, on average, the population had sufficient water to meet their needs. Assessment on the local level, however, revealed disparities in access to water resources. Additionally, water shortages apparent at the local scale were not evident in larger scale models. These findings illustrate the importance of integrating results from multiple scales for accurate assessment.


SAfMA identified the effectiveness of national and regional governance as the key uncertainty facing the development of southern Africa over the next three decades. The SAfMA pilot assessment explored the implications for regional ecosystem services under a NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) scenario and a scenario in which current regional trends persist (Patchwork Africa). Responses under both scenarios highlighted the need for transparent and responsive governance.

Further information on the assessment approach and project outputs can be found in the following SAfMA publications.


Links to articles related to SAfMA

  • Bohensky, Erin. 2004. Why Ecosystems Services Matter. The Environment Times, UNEP/GRID-Arendal Download
  • Bohensky, Erin, Lynam, Timothy. 2005 . Evaluating Responses in Complex Adaptive Systems: Insights on Water Management from the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (SAfMA) E&S Home > Vol. 10, No. 1Open Access Publishing Download
  • Direct Crosslinks to the Global Assessment Reports of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment: Multiscale Assessments: Findings of the Sub-global Assessments Working Group Download
  • van Jaarsveld AS, Biggs R, Scholes RJ, Bohensky E, Reyers B, Lynam T, Musvoto C, Fabricius C 2005 . Measuring conditions and trends in ecosystem services at multiple scales: the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (SAfMA) experience. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 28;360(1454):425-41. Download
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