TIME South Sudan

Why George Clooney is Supporting Coffee Farming in South Sudan

South Sudan food insecurity
Charles Lomodong—AFP/Getty Images Internally displaced persons queue to register at a refugee camp in Bentiu, South Sudan in February 2015.

A possible solution to the chaos in the world's youngest country can be found at the nexus of celebrity, cause and commerce

When it comes to celebrities and their causes, there is perhaps no more indelible pairing than George Clooney and the nation of South Sudan. After decades of conflict and a genocide that left 2.5 million dead in the East African nation of Sudan, Clooney turned the light of his celebrity on the issue, rallying international support for a long promised referendum on independence for the southern part of the country, that, on January 9, 2011, gave birth to South Sudan. But an 18-month-long civil war, fueled in part by disputes over the new country’s lucrative oil fields, threatens to turn the world’s youngest nation into its latest failed state. On 10 June the Red Cross issued an urgent appeal, warning that 4.6 million South Sudanese were facing “severe food insecurity,” and that in some of the worst afflicted areas people were reduced to eating water lilies to survive. Clooney, who on the eve of South Sudan’s independence cautioned that the early years in the new country were likely to be chaotic, also laid the groundwork for an alternate future that is slowly starting to bear fruit – literally.

In the southwestern state of Central Equatoria, 300 farmers are tending to some 20,000 newly planted coffee trees in an ambitious attempt to reduce the importance of oil to the national economy by focusing on the sustainable export of coffee. And not just any coffee: Premium espresso beans destined for the aluminum capsules of Nespresso, the other name indelibly associated with Clooney. Associated internationally at least — American fans may not be aware he is the brand’s spokesman everywhere else in the world.

At the nexus of celebrity, cause and commerce, Nespresso’s South Sudan project aims to build the coffee industry from the ground up, by planting trees, training farmers in sustainable growing practices, and helping locals set up basic processing mills and sales cooperatives. They have invested $750,000 so far through TechnoServe, a nonprofit development organization that seeks to solve poverty through creating local business. If the pilot project goes well, Nespresso anticipates investing a total of $2.1 million through 2016 and creating a market big enough for some 15,000 coffee farmers. Already the signs are good. In 2013, South Sudanese farmers sent 1.8 metric tons of unroasted coffee beans to Nespresso in Switzerland. It was the country’s first ever non-oil export to Europe, and though the amount was small, the reception was ecstatic.

Like wine, good coffee comes from specific terroirs — climatic and soil conditions that create a distinct flavor profile. The signature aroma of a good South Sudanese coffee, according to Nespresso’s coffee experts, is of “cereals and plum.” Coffee originates from Africa’s Rift Valley, and the area now known as South Sudan was once known for coffee that was exported across the Middle East centuries ago. But decades of war, and a growing reliance on oil exports, saw the industry decline long before South Sudan became independent.

As anyone who has ever walked into a Nespresso boutique knows, the brand stakes its prestige on carefully cultivated coffee terrorirs, from Columbia to Ethiopia and Brazil. Most of those coffee-producing nations have spent decades building up markets and a reputation for quality that transcends any particular purveyor, be it Starbucks, Illy or Intelligentsia. In South Sudan, Nespresso has an opportunity to stamp its name on an entirely new coffee origin. In doing so it is capitalizing on novelty, quality and the feel-good aspects of investing in a good cause that happens to be backed by an international celebrity. “George did introduce us to South Sudan because of his passion for the country. But even though he is influential, we wouldn’t be interested in the country but for the fact that it has exceptional coffee,” says Daniel Weston, Nespresso’s Director of Creating Shared Value, a position that focuses on developing the communities that provide Nespresso its raw materials.

Coffee, as a commodity sold around the world at fluctuating prices, is not lucrative on a small scale. But if farmers develop a niche product that can be sold at a premium, they have a chance of creating a worthwhile livelihood that sustains their communities while minimizing environmental impacts. That’s where TechnoServe, which has been working in coffee for nearly 50 years, comes in. In South Sudan, their agronomists have essentially elevated a local product from the coffee equivalent of table grapes to a distinct cultivar that stands on its own when passed through an espresso machine. The farmers can then sell those beans to Nespresso, or anyone else, at a 40% premium. “A small farmer working an acre of land can produce the best and most valuable coffee in the world,” says TechnoServe CEO William Warshauer, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum for Africa in Cape Town in early June. “We want the multinationals to make profits, and we want farmers to lift their families out of poverty. This project ticks both boxes.”

No one believes that coffee alone will pull South Sudan from the brink, least of all George Clooney. But it’s a start. “If there is to be lasting peace and prosperity in South Sudan, part of the equation will be a diversified economy and opportunities that benefit the people of the country,” says Clooney in a statement. “The investment by Nespresso and TechnoServe in South Sudan’s coffee sector, even while the conflict is ongoing, is providing much-needed income for hundreds of farmers and their families.” As with espresso, sometimes all that is needed is a quick shot to get things going.

TIME celebrities

35 Celebrities That Look Completely Different With Beards

In honor of Stephen Colbert's 'Colbeard,' see how different your favorite celebrities can look with just a little bit of facial hair

TIME celebrities

This Is How George Clooney Dropped a Surprising Proposal to Amal

It happened after seven months of dating

George Clooney couldn’t have been more sincere when he proposed to Amal Alamuddin last year after seven months of dating, but even he couldn’t resist letting some of his trademark humor slip in that all-important moment.

“It was completely unexpected, so finally I just said ‘Listen, I’m 52 [at the time] and I’ve been on my knee now for about 28 minutes, so I gotta get an answer out of this or I’m gonna throw a hip out!” he told longtime friend Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning during a candid chat at the top of One World Trade Center Tower.

As the world knows, the respected human-rights lawyer indeed said yes, and the Oscar winner shared more details about the intimate proposal, which happened at home while “I queued up a playlist of some of my Aunt Rosemary’s songs.”

“I knew fairly quickly that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Amal,” he said. “When I asked her we had never talked about it. There wasn’t like ‘Maybe we should get married.’ I dropped it on her!”

Clearly smitten, Clooney, now 54, talks sweetly about how his wife has made him happier than he has ever known, and the duo have vowed to never spend more than a week apart.

“I have someone I can talk to about anything and someone who I care about more than I’ve cared about anything, so it’s really nice,” he said.

The Tomorrowland actor was considerably less gushy in a new interview with Vulture as he discussed a topic that puts a smile on few people’s faces: dealing with Internet trolls.

“Now you can just sit alone and say horrible things, and it becomes fashionable to be sh—y to people,” he said.

Clooney has been the subject of online hate many times, of course, though he partly mitigates that by not being on social media. (“Don’t ever read comments on anything!” says adds.) But then, people feel entitled to be blunt in person, too.

“Now people will come up to me, thinking they’re keeping it real, and they say, ‘I hated you in that last movie!’ ” he says. “And I’ll look at them and go, ‘Well, I think those extra 20 pounds look good on you.’ It’s become a much more cynical time, a time when people think it’s fun to only be negative.”

His solution? Just don’t engage with the haters.

“That’s not gonna be how I function,” he says. “I’m not gonna function in that world, where negativity is going to be the centerpiece. I’m going to look to the better angels and have a better life because of it.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Television

Watch George Clooney Handcuff Himself to David Letterman

Bravo, George

Last night, George Clooney did his part to make sure that David Letterman doesn’t leave late night any time soon. As the date of Letterman’s impending retirement approaches, the stars have come out to pay tribute to the beloved Late Show host. Adam Sandler serenaded him, Julia Roberts planted one on him and Tina Fey stripped down to her skivvies (sort of) to bid him farewell. Clooney, however, decided to take matters into his own hands to stop the beloved host from leaving the show at all.

“Let me see your wrist,” he requested after taking a seat. Letterman obliged, and Clooney promptly slapped a pair of handcuffs on the host, gleefully telling him, “You’re not going anywhere, David Letterman.” Mission accomplished.

Despite Clooney’s best efforts, Letterman is leaving The Late Show next Wednesday, May 20. His final guests will be Tom Hanks, Eddie Vedder and Bill Murray. Stephen Colbert will take over as host in the fall.

Jimmy Kimmel: Watching David Letterman ‘Was More Important Than Sleep’

 

TIME celebrities

Get Out of Your Car Within 100m of George Clooney’s Italian Villas and You’ll Be Fined Up to $550

A lakeside view of George Clooney's villa Oleandra on Lake Como, northern Italy, taken Thursday, July 8, 2004.
Antonio Calanni—Associated Press A lakeside view of George Clooney's villa Oleandra on Lake Como, northern Italy, taken Thursday, July 8, 2004.

Drive on sir, nothing to see here

The mayor of Laglio, Italy has warned that anyone who sets foot within 100 meters of George and Amal Clooney’s twin luxury villas overlooking Lake Como will be fined up to €500 ($550.)

Robert Pozzi, mayor of the small picturesque village in northern Italy, issued the ordinance to protect Clooney, his wife Amal and their guests’ privacy while they vacation in their glitzy properties, reports the Telegraph.

Anyone who leaves their car or boat within 100 meters of Clooney’s Villa Oleandra and adjoining Villa Margherita will be liable to pay the hefty fine.

The Gravity and Oceans 11 star bought one of the exclusive villas in 2002, but after fans and paparazzi flooded the town and set up camp near his home, Clooney bought the adjoining property to ensure his privacy.

Before the couple’s wedding last year, a similar exclusion zone was enforced around the homes to protect the pair from snooping photographers

[Telegraph]

TIME movies

Watch the Latest Trailer for Disney’s Tomorrowland

Frank (George Clooney) meets Casey (Britt Robertson) for the first time

Walt Disney Pictures has released the second trailer for Brad Bird’s upcoming sci-fi adventure film Tomorrowland, and this time we get to see a bit more of the mysterious world it portrays.

George Clooney plays a former boy-genius named Frank who has grown into a rather jaded old man, but when bright young teen Casey (Britt Robertson) finds a portal to the strange world in the form of a pin, the duo embark on a danger-filled adventure.

In the new trailer, Frank meets Casey for the first time, we see that an evil group is trying to stop the pair and we learn that bathtubs make great rockets.

Disney is still not giving away too many clues about the film but this new trailer is only making us want to find out more.

Tomorrowland hits cinemas May 22, 2015.

TIME Television

Marisa Tomei to Play Gloria Steinem in HBO Miniseries

US-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM-OSCARS
Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez—AFP/Getty Images Marisa Tomei arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills on Feb. 22, 2015

Steinem will consult on the project, which George Clooney is producing

Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei will play the renowned feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem in an upcoming HBO miniseries.

The series, called Ms., will focus on the creation of Ms. magazine in 1971 and the feminist movement of the 1960s and ’70s, the Wrap reports. Steinem herself will consult on the project, and Kathy Najimy will co-star. Bruce Cohen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov will executive-produce alongside Najimy and Tomei.

Tomei, who won an Oscar for her role in My Cousin Vinny, previously worked with Clooney and his producing partner Heslov on the 2011 drama The Ides of March. She recently inked a development deal with HBO.

[The Wrap]

TIME movies

Watch the Exciting New Trailer for Disney’s Tomorrowland

A world "where nothing is impossible"

Disney fans were treated to a new trailer for its upcoming movie Tomorrowland, during Sunday’s Super Bowl, and it looks awesome.

The sci-fi fantasy film brings together director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) and is set to hit theaters May 22, 2015.

But Disney is still not giving much away with the new trailer. The clip shows George Clooney, who plays a former child genius, alongside Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie as they enter a world filled with huge skyscrapers, flying trains and strange machines “where nothing is impossible.”

“You wanna go?” asks Clooney. Yes, we can’t wait.

TIME celebrity

The World’s Obsession With Amal Isn’t About Her Accomplishments

Lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney attends the hearing in the case Perincek vs Switzerland, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 28,2015.
Sandro Weltin/Council of Europe/EPA Lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney attends the hearing in the case Perincek vs Switzerland, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 28, 2015.

Charlotte Alter covers women, culture, politics and breaking news for TIME in New York City.

They're real, but the gushing isn't

Amal Clooney is at it again— doing something celebrities don’t usually do, and looking like a movie star while doing it.

This time, she’s arguing in the European Court of Human Rights against a Turkish politician who denied the existence of an Armenian genocide 100 years ago in which more than 1.5 million people were brutally murdered. That’s, like, sooo impressive… but who is she wearing?

When a reporter from The Telegraph asked her, she cheekily replied “Ede and Ravenscroft,” the legal robes maker that has been selling drab back judge costumes since 1689, the year Benjamin Franklin’s parents met.

Once she did that, the focus shifted from the history of the Armenian genocide to Amal’s sense of humor and fashion choices. The global reaction to her comments was proof that jig is up: it’s time to stop pretending you care about what Amal Clooney is doing, when you really just care about how she looks while doing it.

The public obsession with Amal Clooney has been outwardly focused on her professional accomplishments, and with good reason. She’s represented high-profile clients like Julian Assange and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, fought for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece, and worked to free three Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt. She’s done more in the last ten years than many lawyers do over their entire career.

It sounds great, and it is. But the gushing adoration in the media about her work is false appreciation that crumples under scrutiny. How many other human rights lawyers inspire anything close to Amal-mania? Look at Samira al-Nuaimy, the Iraqi human rights lawyer who was executed by ISIS last year. If the tabloid-buying American public so obsessed with human rights, why wasn’t she on the cover of InTouch?

MORE Lawyer Who Led Challenge of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law: ‘Long, Long Way to Go’

Let’s face it: no matter how real Amal’s accomplishments are, the breathless celebration of her legal triumphs is just a thinly veiled infatuation with how she looks.

When placed in the glare of celebrity, Clooney’s binders of legal documents and folders of case material become accessories to her shiny hair and perfect manicure, instead of the other way around. What’s worse, there’s something grotesque about using serious work on behalf of genocide victims as a pretense for a fixation on her looks, her clothes, and her marriage to one of the world’s most eligible actors.

Amal’s beauty is the unspoken end of every sentence about her legal career, the sub-head to every headline about her human rights work. Even if the coverage is ostensibly focused on Turkish politics, or the Elgin marbles, or sexual violence in conflict zones, the substance get inevitably lost in the subliminal hum over what Amal’s wearing, how Amal’s hair looks, and the fact that Amal is married to George Clooney. It even happens when there’s nothing to report—the Armenian genocide case was overshadowed by Amal’s non-outfit (she was wearing essentially the same thing as all the other lawyers in the room).

It’s also a weird over-correction to the common sexist problem of focusing on women’s looks over their careers. Instead of focusing on the looks of an accomplished woman (like Kirsten Gillibrand), the media is loudly proclaiming how not-sexist they are by obsessively trumpeting Amal’s professional accomplishments, then mentioning her beauty as a super-conspicuous after-thought.

But discussing Amal Clooney’s human rights work in the same tone as Kim Kardashian’s workouts or Jennifer Lawrence’s pizza cravings isn’t just awkward— it’s bizarre. Imagine if other human rights activists were treated the same way. Next it’ll be “Watch Ban Ki-Moon Go to the Gym Without Makeup” or “Malala’s Celebrity Crush: REVEALED!”

MORE Malala Condemns the Killing of School Children in Peshawar

Some celebrities use their existing fame to shine a light on problems in the world, like Amal’s husband’s best friend’s wife Angelina Jolie, who recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times demanding improved conditions in Syrian refugee camps. But that’s a different story, because Jolie came to activism after she got famous. She’s getting her picture taken in refugee camps and giving impassioned speeches at the U.N. precisely to direct those who are interested in her hair and clothes towards something more important.

But Amal’s just doing her job. Her work isn’t celebrity activism or a publicity stunt. Yet when it’s put in the context of celebrity fodder, Amal Clooney’s work on behalf of marginalized people gets reduced to just another thing a woman does while being beautiful.

So stop gushing. Stop with the headlines that trumpet Amal as a goddess for doing her job. Stop with the shock and awe that someone so beautiful could be so smart as well. Just let Amal keep doing her thing.

Read next: Amal Alamuddin Clooney and the Rise of the Trophy Husband

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TIME europe

Watch Amal Clooney Eloquently Argue Her Case in Armenian Genocide Hearing

Clooney is representing Armenia before Europe's top human rights court

Amal Clooney laid her case before the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday against a Turkish politician who denied the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The international human rights lawyer is representing Armenia in a case against Dogu Perincek, the chairman of the Turkish Workers’ Party, who was convicted in Switzerland in 2005 for calling the Armenian genocide an “international lie.”

The Strasbourg-based ECHR later agreed with Perincek that the conviction violated his freedom of expression, and now Switzerland is appealing, with Armenia’s backing as a third party.

“The most important error” made in the earlier ECHR ruling, Clooney said, “is that it cast doubt on the reality of the Armenian genocide that the people suffered 100 years ago.” In her remarks, Clooney noted Turkey’s “disgraceful” record on freedom of expression.

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in what historians widely consider to be the first genocide of the 20th century, but Turkey has contested the numbers and refused to call it a genocide.

The case could also have wider implications for Europe, where several countries have laws prohibiting public denial of past genocides such as the Holocaust.

Clooney, now arguably the most famous human rights lawyer in the world after marrying actor George Clooney in September, previously represented Greece in its long-running bid to have a collection of classical Greek sculptures returned from the British Museum. She also defended one of three al-Jazeera journalists detained in Egypt.

Read next: Amal Clooney Begins Next Big Human Rights Case

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