Image: Jonathan Colville

South Africa’s incredible biodiversity, our natural heritage, provides many jobs and benefits

On Heritage Day, we celebrate our cultural heritage and diversity. Let’s also celebrate our natural heritage, our biodiversity – the unique species and ecosystems in South Africa. The National Biodiversity Assessment will be released on 3 October 2019 and contains remarkable information about how the country’s people and economy benefit from its impressive biodiversity.

South Africa is ranked in the top three countries globally when it comes to plant and marine species endemism (species found nowhere else on Earth). The diversity and uniqueness of South Africa’s species and ecosystems makes us one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations – countries that together contain more than two thirds of the world’s biodiversity.

South Africa’s economy is highly dependent on this biodiversity – for example: biodiversity tourism demand generates a direct spend of approximately R31 billion in the economy annually, and our approximately 2 000 medicinal plant species contribute to the African Traditional Medicine sector worth ~R18billion per year. [Additional facts about benefits below.]

South Africa is in the grips of an employment crisis, with unemployment rising above 29% in 2019. Yet its biodiversity supports many jobs across a range of sectors and business activities. A biodiversity-related employment study, linked to the National Biodiversity Assessment and led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and University of Cape Town, found that approximately 418 000 jobs are related to biodiversity. This is comparable to the mining sector, which had approximately 430 000 jobs in 2017.

Biodiversity-related jobs can be separated into two broad categories: those that contribute to conserving biodiversity, like game rangers and researchers, and those that directly utilise biodiversity, like the people working in tourism establishments or in fisheries. Fulufhelo Mukhadi, Deputy Director for Policy Advice at the SANBI, said: “For every one job in­volved in conserving biodiversity there are approximately five jobs that depend on the use of biodiversity, which means that investing in biodiversity conservation helps to provide employment.”

Continued investment in managing and conserving biodiversity is essential so that jobs and other benefits that depend on biodiversity can continue to increase.

“Biodiversity-related jobs have good growth potential and could be sustainable over the very long-term. Since many important biodiversity areas are located outside of cities, biodiversity-related jobs also have the potential to support rural development,” said Mukhadi.

Additional facts about the benefits of South Africa’s biodiversity

South Africa’s biodiversity wealth gives our people tangible benefits like food, clean water, medicine and materials. It supports agricultural and fisheries production. Biodiversity also helps protect us from natural hazards like floods and droughts. Our natural heritage is the basis of a vibrant tourism industry and offers natural spaces for recreational and cultural activities.

Look forward to the release of the National Biodiversity Assessment on 3 October 2019

The National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) is the primary tool for reporting on the state of biodiversity in South Africa. It is used to inform policies, strategies and activities for managing and conserving biodiversity more effectively. The NBA is led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) as part of their mandate to monitor the status of South Africa’s biodiversity. The NBA was undertaken between 2015 and 2019. It involved extensive collaboration from over 470 individuals representing about 90 organisations. The full suite of NBA products, which include a synthesis report, seven technical reports, datasets, maps, supplementary materials, and popular products, will be released on 3 October 2019 and will be accessible here.

Follow us on Twitter @SANBI_ZA for updates.

Supplementary information for this press release


  • More information about how the biodiversity-related jobs number was estimated is included in the attached factsheet.
  • A Compendium of Benefits of Biodiversity was compiled as supplementary material to the National Biodiversity Assessment. This compendium is available here.


Infographic about biodiversity-related jobs in South Africa (found in the PDF factsheet available)

We often don’t realise the numerous benefits that biodiversity provides to people…  many of these benefits translating into livelihoods and employment. For example (clockwise from top left below):

  • Nearly invisible insect pollinators are essential for the production of nutritious fruits and vegetables (© Jonathan Colville);
  • South Africa’s plant and animal species are used for food and medicine – Aloe Ferox, for example, is 95% wild harvested and used in over 140 cosmetic and complementary medicine products (© CapeNature);
  • Healthy estuarine and marine ecosystems support 22 commercial fisheries sectors, about 29 000 small-scale fishers and >700 000 recreational fishers (© Peter Chadwick);
  • Interacting with nature brings measurable emotional, mental and physical benefits, influences our cultural and spiritual development, and provides ~R31 Billion per year to the South African tourism economy (© Kerry Sink).

Mr Fulufhelo Mukhadi
Deputy Director: Policy Advice
Tel.: 012 843 5106

Ms Carol Poole
Lead: Benefits component for the NBA
Tel.: 021 799 8695
Cell: 073 148 7773

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