Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar)

Switzerland aims to reduce poverty, support equitable and sustainable development, and foster democratic governance in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. Switzerland is active in three sectors: social development, local governance and citizen participation, agriculture and food security, as well as vocational education and training.

Map of the region Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar)

Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam have achieved strong economic growth rates and significant prorgress in poverty reduction in the past 20 years.  They remain, however, among the poorest countries in southeast Asia.  Inequalities are growing and democratic participation remains weak.  Poverty is most widespread among the rural population and in ethnic minority groups. Agriculture provides livelihoods for approximately 80% of the population.

All countries face huge challenges such as improving social and environmental development, diversifying the economy and strengthening inclusive growth.  As they seek to enter the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, the social and economic gap with the other six ASEAN countries will have to be narrowed.

All stakeholders within the federal administration coordinate their activities using a common approach.  Switzerland's activities in the region all include the cross-cutting themes of gender equality, participation of marginalised groups and non-discrimination, adapting to climate change as well as disaster prevention and risk reduction. Key partners in the development cooperation are:

  • Swiss partners: Helvetas Intercooperation, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), Nestlé, Allianz Re, MeteoSwiss)
  • Ministries and provincial or district authorities
  • Local NGOs
  • International NGOs such as Care International, CORD (peacebuilding organisation), the WWF
  • Regional partners (The Centre for People and Forests, Mekong River Commission, Mekong Institute)
  • Bilateral donors such as Germany and the Nordic countries
  • Multilateral organisations such as the UNDP, World Bank, Asian Development Bank

Agriculture and food security

Income generation and livelihood security for smallholder farmers

To improve food security, Switzerland provides support to help smallholder farmers diversify their production and secure access to agricultural land, forests and means of production.  It helps them to earn higher incomes through targeted advisory services, strengthening value chains and improving access to markets.

In mountainous areas in northern Vietnam, Switzerland supports small-scale infrastructure projects and the participation of all parties affected in their planning and implementation at the village and municipal level.  Thanks to infrastructure (clean water and sanitation systems, kindergarten, primary schools etc.), living conditions in 37,900 rural households – especially of ethnic minorities and women – improved in 2013.  Refurbished inter-village roads, bridges and irrigation canals helped farmers increase their production and gain better access to markets.

Agriculture and food security

Local governance

Decentralisation and capacity building

Switzerland supports efforts to help women and men get involved in shaping policies and in planned public investment, as well as to hold public administrations accountable for their actions.   Citizens need quality social services with a focus on the most vulnerable, especially women and ethnic minorities.

In Laos, a programme co-financed by Switzerland aims to build the capacities of local administrations to improve the delivery of public services in the areas of education, health, water and agriculture under the District Development Fund (DDF) scheme.  The DDF promotes fiscal decentralisation and has allowed more than 4,600 officials and village heads and 18,000 villagers (36% women) to develop their capacities for participatory planning and financial management for small-scale infrastructures.

Advocacy and Good Governance

Vocational education and training

Better access to employment  

In the Mekong region, Switzerland is developing projects to improve skills and work opportunities for rural women and men.  In Cambodia, the SDC is seeking to support the government in implementing the new sectoral policy and promote migrant workers’ rights in national development strategies.

Basic education and vocational training

History of cooperation

From a bilateral to a regional approach

Active in the region since 1968, Switzerland can look back on a long tradition of bilateral cooperation with Vietnam, where it still maintains a programme office to this day. Vietnam attained the status of a middle-income country in 2010 which is why the SDC programme for poverty reduction will be phased out by 2016. In 2006, Switzerland opened a cooperation office in Vientiane in Laos which is responsible for the regional Mekong programme. Another programme office was opened in 2013 in Phnom Penn in Cambodia, where Switzerland also provided support to the Kantha Bopha hospitals of the Swiss doctor, Beat Richner.

Country programme in Myanmar

Since 1994, Switzerland's Humanitarian Aid Department has been working in eastern Myanmar as well as in the camps for Myanmar refugees in Thailand. Switzerland has maintained an embassy in Yangon since 2012 after the political upheavals in the country. Since then, Swiss humanitarian activities are being complemented by a broad development programme. The Myanmar country programme forms part of the regional Mekong programme.

Current projects

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For citizen-oriented public services

© SDC

01.05.2015 - 31.12.2017

The SDC has been supporting the Cambodian authorities in an ambitious process of decentralisation that started in 2001. The aim is to provide local and provincial authorities with enough resources and competences to enable them to deliver quality public services to the Cambodian population. The process also encourages citizens to have their say on these matters.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Cambodia
Rule of Law - Democracy - Human rights
Decentralisation - local governance - democratization (incl. accountability)
Human rights (incl. Women's rights)
Protection and access

01.05.2015 - 31.12.2017


CHF 7'300'000



Growing more coffee with less water in Vietnam

A Vietnamese farmer is keeping watch on coffee beans spread out in many rows on the ground to dry in the sun.

01.05.2014 - 31.12.2017

Growing coffee consumes vast quantities of water. In Vietnam, there are sometimes water shortages in the villages surrounding the plantations. The SDC is working with the Vietnamese authorities and food company Nestlé to encourage local coffee growers to optimise their water use.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Vietnam
Water
Integrated water resource management (watershed)
Water for agriculture and food
Water resources policy and advocacy

01.05.2014 - 31.12.2017


CHF 900'000



Quality apprenticeships for disadvantaged populations

01.12.2013 - 31.01.2018

The SDC is committed to developing quality vocational training that is adapted to the market in Myanmar. With this aim in mind, Swiss experts from the hotel industry have become involved. Apprenticeships for disadvantaged groups are funded in the capital and in the south-east of the country.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Myanmar
Education
Vocational training and skills development

01.12.2013 - 31.01.2018


CHF 18'900'000



Regeneration of neglected villages in south-east Myanmar

A nurse receives patients at the entrance to a health centre.

01.09.2013 - 14.08.2017

In Myanmar, the villages close to the Thai border have seen more than six decades of conflict. Geographically isolated, and in some cases under the control of armed indigenous ethnic groups, these villages are beyond the reach of central government authority. Their inhabitants must do with infrastructures that are in a perilous state. Working alongside the affected communities and other partners, the SDC is committed to restoring basic services, with the particular involvement of the young people in the region.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Myanmar
Conflict prevention and transformation
Health
Education
Civilian peace-building and conflict resolution
Formal basic education (primary and lower secondary)
Primary health care

01.09.2013 - 14.08.2017


CHF 5'091'000



Planned project

Primary Health Care

01.01.2022 - 31.10.2024

After years of underinvestment in the social sectors and decades of civil war, access to basic services is low, in particular in the rural areas of the southeast of Myanmar. This project aims to improve people’s health through a primary health care approach in selected townships of the region, both in Government and Ethnic Armed Group controlled areas, strengthening basic services, empowering communities and supporting convergence of health systems.


Planned project

Hospitality Skills Development Laos

01.11.2021 - 31.12.2025

In Laos, tourism is the sector with the highest potential to create jobs for the poor. SDC’s support will allow 20’000 youth to acquire the skills needed to work in hotels and restaurants. Dual Cooperative Training (apprenticeships) will provide for work place orientation of skills and facilitate an easy transition of trainees into full employment. Financial incentives will ensure that youth from poor families and SME hotels and restaurants profit from the project. Affirmative action mechanisms are applied so that at least 70% of trainees supported are women, mostly from ethnic minorities.


Rights & Skills Mekong Migrants

01.01.2021 - 31.12.2024

Labour migration to Thailand is an important livelihood strategy for poor families in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanm ar. The majority of migrants currently work as low skilled non-regulars for minim um wages. The project will im prove the poverty reduction contribution of migrant workers, especially of women, through pre-departure and in-service skills and life skills training, resulting in jobs with higher incomes, and through policy influencing for regularization, resulting in better employment and safer working conditions.


Planned project

Skills Development Program Cambodia

01.07.2020 - 31.12.2027

Skills development is a key driver for inclusive growth in Cambodia, but delivery is poor. Through the Skills Development Program, SDC supports the rural poor and disadvantaged youth in northern provinces to have better access to more gainful and decent employment through vocational and life skills and contributes to strengthening the TVET national regulatory framework for better inclusion, more effective delivery and higher relevance of vocational skills to labor market needs.


Planned project

Strengthening Policy and Practice for Land Governance

01.06.2020 - 30.09.2023

In the rapid transition to a democratic market economy, control over land is at the centre of a struggle between smallholder farmer-based and industry-led agricultural growth. This project works with both government and civil society to create institutions and practices that increase smallholder farmer land tenure security, including for women and ethnic minorities, through improved access to information and increased capacities, knowledge and skills.


Mine Action for Human Development in Cambodia 2017- 2025

01.01.2020 - 31.12.2025

Over the past 20 years Cambodia has made significant progress in clearing landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). Nevertheless 1,640 km2 of land remain contaminated as suspected minefields at this moment. SDC plans supporting national and regional mine action initiatives to ensure that development of poor rural communities is no longer impeded by disablement and restricted access to land, forests and water resources due to landmines and ERW.


Joint Peace Fund

01.04.2017 - 31.03.2026

After 60 years of conflict, the government and 8 Ethnic Armed Groups have signed a National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in October 2015, opening up a unique opportunity to find lasting peace. The Joint Peace Fund is a multi-donor fund set up to channel coordinated international support for such efforts, including the implementation of the NCA and following political dialogue of the peace process, a requirement for development especially in border areas.


Strengthening democratic local governance

01.12.2016 - 30.06.2026

The project aims at supporting the democratic transition and the peace efforts in Myanmar. Using a decentralized budget support approach to all townships of one state in the Southeast of the country, it will strengthen township’s participatory planning and budgeting capacity. The project will also deepen the community’s capacity to demand public services. Additionally it will support national level policy discussions based on this experience.

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Multimedia

Videos «Connect to»

These videos show how the SDC works to improve market access for Vietnamese tea pickers, hemp producers, farmers, and cinnamon essential-oil producers.