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Published on: Nov. 19, 2023, 8:38 p.m.
How Lal Bhatia set a new gold standard in hydroponic farming
  • Bhatia: innovative initiatives

By Lancelot Joseph. Executive Editor, Business India

More than a farm, it’s going to be a gourmet sanctuary, where the wines and olives would not be just flavours, but journeys too, meticulously designed for the discerning palate. Hydroponic farming is the latest business adventure, where Lal Bhatia is aiming to setting a new gold standard in agrarian luxury in Ajman, UAE with David & Goliath Farms, where culinary will meet art.

Bhatia was born and brought up in Calcutta, who went to Don Bosco Park Circus and Xavier College Jesuit Education, and then moved to Hawaii Pacific University for living his great American dream. Back to India and then to Dubai working with the Sheikhs in the UAE on various issues of business and social interests led Bhatia to the post of chairman, Hilshaw Group, an investment management, real estate financing and development funding company. Hilshaw group, a multi-family office & investment advisory, primarily invests in low-supply, finite, time-specific opportunities. The company had been allocated $175 million towards UAE Real Estate, specifically towards facilitating the ‘remote work visa programme’. 

As a senior advisor to Sheikh Sultan Bin Rashed Bin Humaid Al Nuaumi, Bhatia influences development, finance, real estate, and film sectors in the UAE. “The next pet project of ours is called hydroponic farming. What we are doing is converting a lot of desert land out here; what we have realised is that, because of climate change, farms in Europe are specially getting burned because of the excess heat. So, we, with technology based on artificial intelligence, IoT and robotics, are going to have a lot of these hydroponic farming systems here where we will be producing fruits and vegetables,” says Bhatia.

With investments of about €5 million so far in D & G farms, Bhatia is set to focus on much larger objectives of addressing climate change too. A hydroponic farm can be set up in any place, as long as you control the nutrients, as long as you have the grafting of the plants and the vegetables and the fruits and as long as you control the climate, which is easy, he says. And because there is so much desert out here, solar energy is easy to get too. 

Designing nutrients through AI

“A majority of farming has been designed using the old ways. But today, we can design nutrients through artificial intelligence and that is easily available. We have to get the correct grafting and the seeds to grow plants, but it can easily be stacked up,” adds Bhatia, who started off in Ajman and Sharjah and is now working towards getting a licence from the Ajman Free Zone and the Sharjah Free Zone, to bottle wines in the UAE for exports. 

Bhatia normally works on joint ventures, especially when there is a government involved. The governments usually do not like to put in their own money, especially in the UAE, but they are happy to grant you land. Bhatia plans to get about 50,000 sq ft plot for D & G farms, which is going to be a grant and that itself is a huge cost saving in such a project.

“Climate change is here to stay. And there is a lot that can be done. India needs hydroponic farming, climate change, sustainability, carbon credits and all of that. We have tied up with a company called Pan European Carbon Fund that is willing to invest in carbon neutral,” adds Bhatia.

  • A majority of farming has been designed using the old ways. But today, we can design nutrients through artificial intelligence and that is easily available

Wearing many hats – of a global thought leader, savvy investor, innovator, author, poet, and philosopher – Bhatia also chairs UAE STRAT: 2071, which is a philanthropic think tank, dedicated to elevating the UAE’s international standing by addressing humanitarian and environmental concerns. Collaborating with banks and government institutions, he spearheads an innovative initiative aimed at fostering win-win solutions for debtors and creditors.

“At UAE STRAT: 2071, we forge pathways to justice and efficiency, beyond policies. What we realised is that in the prisons of Ajman and Sharjah many individuals are locked up for financial crimes and many of them are Indians. With revamped laws, the cases of bounced cheques are addressed swiftly and fairly. This turns around the financial challenges into growth opportunities, empowering individuals to rise and contribute,” says Bhatia.

Under his Hilshaw group, Bhatia has negotiated contracts to develop smart green cities in CIS states, including Grodno in Belarus, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Tbilisi in Georgia, Almaty, and Nur Sultan in Kazakhstan. Additionally, he has played a pivotal role in deeming the Athi River Smart City Project in Kenya as of strategic national importance. His expertise also extends to conducting Ukraine’s Climate Change Mitigation Roadmap, showcasing his commitment to addressing global environmental challenges. He has also successfully negotiated big-ticket real estate transactions of large volume in Thailand, UAE, and India.

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