[IQP] Teak Efficiency and Environmental Education Methods for Batipa

Sponsor: Oteima University
Student Team: Nicholas Amato
Ryna Johnson
Connor Lemay
Theodorus Lundblade
Abstract: We have addressed three issues in this project regarding the Batipa Peninsula and the surrounding areas: solutions for teak by-products, reconnecting wildlife corridors, and the sustainability of the Chiriquí Province through education. Our mission was to create effective and attainable solutions for these issues. We conducted primary research, via interviews and on-site visits, to find low-cost, low-risk solutions for these problems. Our recommendations included new equipment for better teak efficiency, construction of permanent structures for wildlife, planned future projects, proposed classes, critiqued Oteima’s online presence, and generated new tourism itineraries for Batipa.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

This report provides suggestions on the subjects of teak efficiency and marketing, improving the Altitudinal Biological Corridor of Gualaca, the sharing of agricultural techniques to local farms through Batipa, and new initiatives for both academic and ecotourism. The Universidad Tecnologica Oteima, or Oteima University, is a private university and is affiliated with Batipa. On the Batipa Peninsula, there is a large-scale teak plantation, cattle pastures, and a 600-hectare nature refuge. This combination between profitable agriculture and ecology makes Batipa a one of a kind place.

The Batipa Peninsula is part of the Altitudinal Biological Corridor of Gualaca, this massive stretch of land goes from the Pacific coast to the mountains of Fortuna. There is a variety of ecosystems within this corridor and a large span of flora and fauna. The dream is to have full connectivity between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by connecting the Gualacan Corridor to the Mesoamerican Corridor, making it unique in terms of biodiversity.

Initially, 13 projects were delivered to us. Being a four-person team with a short amount of time to complete the project, we needed to look at them all and choose three projects that were the most relevant to the development of Batipa. By looking at the big picture and looking at all 13 projects together, we saw that all of them fell within three subjects. Each would either fall into an economic, ecological, or educational based project. From this we were able to find the three subjects that encompassed multiple other topics so that we could produce suggestions to complete these projects. The final three projects were the following:

1. Teak by-product management
2. Soil erosion control and reconnection of Batipa to the Gualacan Corridor
3. Sharing of knowledge and agricultural techniques utilized at Batipa
4. New initiatives to promote academic and ecotourism

The time span of the project was seven weeks. Of the seven weeks, we spent ten days in the Chiriquí province of Panamá in the city of David. Here we worked at Oteima University and would take trips to Batipa or other areas to evaluate the resources and methods currently implemented to make our suggestions applicable to Batipa. Along with multiple on-site visits, the project team conducted interviews with employees at Batipa to gather information on specific questions we had such as teak milling procedures. After our ten days in David, we spent the remainder of our time researching the topics. We reported to our sponsor to make sure our deliverables still remained viable for Batipa and Oteima. Through extensive research and gathering information on-site, the following suggestions were presented to Oteima.

With the loss of the buyer of whole, eight-year-old teak logs, Batipa had to find a new market to sell these trees. Instead of keeping the logs whole, milling was implemented to square off the lumber, which created large quantities of scrap. Nearly 50% of each logs volume was lost. With the squared off wood drying without a buyer and slabs littered along the side of logging roads, Batipa looked into turning these idle pieces of wood into profit. We measured the amount of teak by-product there was, considered what could be done with it, and offered new methods to try in order to sell the lumber faster. We gave two suggestions on how to deal with all the excess lumber. The first suggestion was to mill each piece again, into a more popular dimension. A popular teak dimension is 1”x4”, which is primarily used for siding and decking. There is a range of buyers all around the world for this style of teak lumber and if Batipa can mill it on-site, then the profit margin may increase. The second suggestion is to purchase a horizontal wood grinder with a colorizer attachment from a heavy equipment auction. Seeing that our sponsor was discouraged about purchasing a chipper due to its extreme retail price, we still believe a chipper is necessary and older models can be bought for lower prices at auctions. With a chipper on-site, all scrap such as the branches, slabs, and unusable logs can be put through and chipped and with the colorizer attachment colored mulch can be produced and sold for a greater amount to landscapers. As for the slabs, we believed the creation of ‘slab racks’ would be beneficial to make the movement and storage of these pieces much easier. There is a market for slabs, but there is a narrow market for the small slabs that Batipa currently has. The best option would be to sell these slabs by the cord and see if they can be sold domestically to cabinet and furniture makers. After harvesting, all the branches and excess wood are left in large brush piles in different locations and left to rot. If a chipper were purchased these could simply get chipped. If a chipper is not purchased, these brush piles should get dispersed along the edges of the freshly cut zone. This would prevent erosion from the now free soil, and will provide nutrients for the biological corridor between zones. The final suggestion we offered was a method to increase the maximum trimming distance of branches. Pole saws are used to trim the branches of the teak trees up to seven meters tall to ensure high quality, knot free wood. With saws maxing out at seven meters, we believe the use of construction staging with adjustable legs would be a cheap and effective way to add another two meters of trimming. With these suggestions, Batipa can gain stability and even a larger profit margin with their teak plantations.

Batipa is a crucial part of this biological corridor due to its extreme amounts of mangroves that surround the peninsula. This along with Batipa’s 600-hectare nature reserve means there are a lot of animals trapped on the peninsula due to the expansion of the Pan-American Highway. With four lanes of traffic, along with Jersey barriers dividing traffic, it makes it extremely difficult for animals to cross. Either the animals cannot get over the barrier or are struck by vehicles. To combat this, six primate bridges were installed for climbing animals to safely get across the highway in early 2018. As of right now, animals are hesitant to use it due to the fact that there is no vegetation on these bridges, making it unappealing for climbing animals. Our suggestion to speed up that process is to put a number of hanging baskets on the bridge with vines growing out of the basket. These vines will climb up and around the bridge, covering it with vegetation faster and making it more appealing to animals. Along with the vegetation stimulation, the installation of game cameras on either end of these bridges will help monitor monkey troop movement. With these two suggestions, Batipa will be one step closer to reconnecting with the rest of the Gualacan Corridor and can monitor animal movement in and out of the peninsula.

With 13 projects put before us throughout our time, in both ID2050 and Panamá, we did not have the time to invest in all of them. This does not mean that these projects were unsubstantial and should not be forgotten. The project team has come up with a proposal of future WPI Interdisciplinary Qualifying Projects (IQP) and Major Qualifying Projects (MQP) that could be implemented in the coming two years that will provide solutions and suggestions for the remaining projects. Below is the suggested IQP and MQP schedule in order of relevance:

IQP: Academic and Ecotourism methods for Batipa. Project involves the team to create academic courses and catalogues, as well as recreational tourism itineraries and programs.
MQP: Design of Animal Bridge Across Pan-American Highway. Project involves civil and architectural engineers in the drafting, design, and rendering of an animal crossing bridge to be installed near Batipa.

IQP: Polyculture and Natural Seed Bank Initiative for Batipa. Project team proposes potential profit plants to cultivate underneath older teak trees. Team also focuses on implementing a seed bank at Batipa to help support the sapling program.
MQP: Design and Placement of Observational Towers on the Batipa Peninsula. Project involves civil and mechanical in the design and locations for multiple wildfire and poaching prevention observation towers.

One of the key questions presented to us was how Oteima could spread the idea of environmental conservation with other locals in the Gualacan Corridor to improve its’ overall health. Oteima University wants to utilize Batipa as an educational center and an outreach for the more remote areas outside of the city of David. In order to spread the ideas of conservation and environmentally conscious farming methods, Oteima University would also like to develop Batipa into a scientific research station. Batipa prides itself upon its methods of rotational teak logging, its optimization of cattle ranching, and the connectivity of the forests and wildlife. These are all subjects Batipa thinks would benefit the wellbeing of the peninsula through the spreading of knowledge. By spreading more efficient and profitable farming techniques, individual farmers can do more with the land they have and can reserve forests for protection and help the corridor as a whole be healthier. Analyzing the techniques Batipa uses allowed our team to develop feasible teaching methods and programs that Batipa can either directly implement or implement once a learning center has been established on-site. Criteria used to determine the methods and programs depended on simplifying the information into clear, concise rhetoric.

Farmers stray from traditional learning methods such as reading textbooks and attending lectures and prefer to learn using hands-on methods such as demonstrations, farm visits, or tours. Besides establishing educational farm visits or on-site demonstrations at Batipa, we also thought it would be valuable to establish a ‘Sapling Program’ whose purpose is to reintroduce cover crops to eroded soil so that with time the topsoil can be repaired and repurposed for the planting of profitable crops. The program would be divided into multiple phases beginning with education about erosion and the importance of vegetative cover on topsoil. In the next phase, partnerships with local farmers who are enrolled in the program will be formed and the restoration of erosion damaged areas will begin. Saplings of teak or other trees with the ability to grow in harsh soil would be planted, following the ‘Batipa Model’ for taking care of the trees. The final two steps occur after there has been significant growth. They involve reintroducing native species once the soil has recovered a significant amount. After the trees matured, they are logged and sold back to Batipa or sold on the farmer’s own terms. After establishing these educational programs, Batipa could have a larger presence in the Chiriquí Province and the scientific community. This would help spread the word about Batipa and help it grow as a reputable field institute.

Being both academic and ecotourists, our group was seen as an opportunity for Batipa and Oteima to receive a first-hand review of the programs and activities Batipa had to offer. Going to Batipa allowed us to experience what they did and did not have. Our group gave feedback on what we, acting as tourists, would look for in a destination and at Batipa.

Oteima and Batipa are partnered with a small number of American universities and would like to be partnered with more in the future. Developing infrastructure pertaining to tourism would be a beneficial first-step for increasing the number of study abroad students they receive. Infrastructure that would be universal to all tourists includes electricity, internet access, sleeping quarters, and meal plans. Things unique to academic tourists would include the presence of a larger dormitory or a lecture hall as well as a stable internet connection. Things important to ecotourists would be the diversity and availability of the recreational activities offered at Batipa. The environmental sustainability of Batipa as a whole and the unique experience Batipa can offer that separates it from other tourist destinations are also key. We spent a weekend at Batipa and were able to take part in multiple recreational activities. We believe that these few activities are a good starting point for Batipa to focus and build upon. We presented Batipa and Oteima with our ideas and ways we thought the tourism sector of Batipa can be developed.

Throughout our time at Oteima University and Batipa, the project team has provided custom suggestions and recommendations based on extensive background research and on-site resource evaluations. We were able to look at the big picture and divide the 13 projects into three main categories, and from that choose three projects that encompass multiple others. These suggestions gave Oteima and Batipa a foundation of information that can be used to better not only the Batipa Peninsula, but the Gualacan Corridor as well.