Tony and Hugh Rodham–brothers to U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton–have launched a joint venture, Argo International, which plans to grow and export Georgian walnuts on a massive scale. In connection with the venture, the Rodhams paid a high-profile visit to the region from August 19-27, meeting with President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi and Ajaria’s Supreme Soviet Chairman Aslan Abashidze in Btumi. According to Argo’s Georgian co-chairman, Bazil Patarkalishvili, the company plans to invest US$ 118 million within a six-year period to boost walnut production to 20,000 tons annually–fourfold the present output. Argo has leased 6,300 hectares in western Georgia and has decided to expand the processing plant at Batumi and to build two new processing plants in Mingrelia.
Walnuts are a major traditional crop in western Georgia and Abkhazia, where the soil and climate are ideally suited. The industry’s growth was stunted during the Soviet era, and export came to a standstill in the post-Soviet period. According to the Rodhams, Georgia has the potential to become a top supplier of this product to the world market and to profit from the high prices which are expected to prevail in the years ahead (Sakartvelos respublika, August 20; Radio Tbilisi, August 23; Prime-News, August 29).