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Gabon, class in a tree
Nestled in the forests near Libreville, it’s a unique way to raise awareness. The treetop classroom in the Raponda Walker Arboretum focuses on – and embodies - the protection of rainforests. A tool for Gabon’s National Agency for National Parks to develop and protect a rare variety of biodiversity.

At 14 meters-high in the heart of a forest with exceptional biodiversity, it is hard not to be distracted by the beauty that surrounds the classroom. Built with Gabon timber (padouk) on a 100 m² platform, it is perched on a giant tree. Students from Libreville and beyond will focus on flora and fauna in rainforests. The idea is to raise their awareness of the wealth and vulnerability of forests. 

“The development of the site includes the creation of a 1.5 km-long path to discover the forest, with several theme stations on tropical rainforests,” says Alice Bardet, an Agriculture, Forestry and Environment project officer at AFD. “This path will lead visitors to the classroom, where they will then be able to take the canopy path, which is suspended over 20 meters-high, to discover the forest from the treetops.”  

On 19 February 2021, this unique classroom received the visit of the Ambassador of France to Gabon, Philippe Autié, the Director of Agence Française de Développement (AFD) in Gabon, Laetitia Dufay, the Executive Secretary of the National Agency for National Parks (ANPN), Christian Tchemambela, and the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Water, Forests, the Sea and Environment, Michel Ngueba Koumba.

80% of forests but 90% of urban population 

The home to this classroom in the trees is called “Arc d’Émeraude,” which refers to three protected areas (Akanda National Park, Pongara National Park and the Raponda Walker Arboretum) around Libreville. Launched in 2012 and financed with €12 million of funds from the debt conversion agreement signed between Gabon and France, the Arc d’Émeraude project aims to ensure the preservation of coastal ecosystems and other protected areas with infrastructure and environmental education.

See also: Video of the French Embassy in Gabon and Sao Tome

Why is it necessary to raise awareness whereas the equatorial forest is everywhere? “80% of this country is covered by tropical rainforests, but 90% of the population (of more than 2 million) is urban,” says Alice Bardet.

“If you are young and living in Libreville, you don’t really take advantage of the forest. Forests are also a constant issue in discussions between those who support the exploitation of resources and those who want to conserve them. The objective of the Arc d’Émeraude project is to gain people’s support in protecting forests, for elephant conservation, for example.”       

The challenge for the managers of the National Agency for National Parks lies in preserving forests for future generations. For this to happen, young people must take up the idea of conservation early on. Raising awareness requires environmental education, and what better place to learn, than in the trees, immersed in the subject matter.