Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar)

Switzerland aims to reduce poverty, support equitable and sustainable development, and foster democratic governance in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. 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)
© FDFA

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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Support to WWF rattan initiative: "Sustainable rattan and bamboo supply chains in the Lao PDR”

01.08.2017 - 31.08.2020

Maintaining high biodiversity in agro-ecosystems contributes to poverty reduction in rural livelihoods. Better knowledge, tools and institutional arrangements are needed to support poverty alleviation and preserve biodiversity. Considering the current development context in Lao PDR, WWF supports the conservation and sustainable economic use of rattan and bamboo, aiming at improving the livelihood of upland farmers and enhancing the policy environment.


Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PaFF): Support to Forestry and Fisheries Communities in Cambodia

01.08.2017 - 30.06.2021

SDC contributes to the initiative Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries implemented by a consortium of four NGOs, led by WWF Cambodia. The programme supports rural communities to secure their access to forestry and fishery resources, to improve income and food security through enhanced production practices, and to advance public dialogue on sustainable natural resource management in four least-developed provinces in the northeast of Cambodia.


National Governance and Public Administration Reform (NGPAR): Governance for Inclusive Development Project (GIDP)

01.08.2017 - 31.07.2021

In a context of prevailing poor access to public services, the National Governance and Public Administration Reform Programme (NGPAR) has enhanced inclusive service delivery and local development via strengthening public administrations, increased dialogue, and collaboration between citizens and state for more effective service delivery since 2006. NGPAR Phase 4, the Governance for Inclusive Development Project will focus on support to the devolution process for inclusive and sustainable development in Lao PDR.


Support to GRET bamboo initiative: “Strengthening the bamboo and rattan sectors in Lao PDR”

01.07.2017 - 30.03.2020

Maintaining high biodiversity in agro-ecosystems contributes to poverty reduction in rural livelihoods. Better knowledge, tools and institutional arrangements are needed to support poverty alleviation and preserve biodiversity. Considering the current development context in Lao PDR, GRET supports the conservation and sustainable economic use of bamboo and rattan, aiming at improving the livelihood of upland farmers and enhancing the policy environment.


Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund - LIFT

01.07.2017 - 31.12.2018

The Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund for Myanmar (LIFT) managed by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) receives contributions from 14 donors. LIFT plays an important role in coordinated donor support to agriculture and rural development. Up to now LIFT has reached 7.2 million people, 2.2 million people live in households with increased income and 326’000 households eat improved diets. With this additional Swiss support, successful LIFT projects will be scaled-up and led to sustainability by end 2018.


Strengthening Research for Agriculture Policy Development

15.06.2017 - 14.06.2020

In 2012, a Policy Think Tank (PTT) was established under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, with the vision of helping guiding the country towards economic prosperity and poverty alleviation. The PTT has established a core team, carried out several studies and generated interest amongst stakeholders involved in the agricultural sector policy improvement. Now, the PTT structure and mandate need to be strengthened and adapted to answer to the changes that the country is facing.


Strengthening Land Governance

01.06.2017 - 31.05.2021

In the past 12 months, close to 10’000 claims on land were registered with state/regional governments. This project addresses land issue from three different angles: 1) OneMap Myanmar, implemented by the University of Bern, facilitates multi-stakeholder processes based on accurate land data; 2) the Land Core Group is THE voice of Civil Society in policy making around land; and 3) the Transnational Institute builds the capacity and networks of ethnic civil society organisations for their effective participation in policy and peace processes.


SUPIC – Support to the Parliament in Cambodia

01.05.2017 - 31.12.2019

The Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia (PIC) supports parliaments in Cambodia and in the wider region to build capacities towards effective democratic institutions and promoting accountability. The Swiss contribution to the PIC will support democratic development processes as a key element for sustainable poverty reduction, and peace and stability in the country and in the region.


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.


The Agro-Biodiversity Initiative (TABI)

01.04.2017 - 30.09.2020

Maintaining high biodiversity in agro-ecosystems contributes to poverty reduction in rural livelihood. Better knowledge, tools and institutional arrangements are needed to support poverty alleviation and preserve biodiversity. Considering the current development context in Lao PDR, TABI supports the conservation and sustainable economic use of agro-biodiversity (ABD) in multifunctional landscapes, aiming at improving the livelihood of uplands farmers.


Support to the Reform of the Agriculture and Forestry Colleges in Lao PDR (SURAFCO)

01.03.2017 - 31.12.2020

Based on the government’s strategy, SURAFCO Phase III supports quality teaching in all five Agriculture and Forestry Colleges of Laos: college management, needs-based infrastructure, teaching equipment, knowledge sharing and exchanges. This is a key contribution to implement the Reform Strategy towards 2020 in order to increase the number of qualified agricultural and extension workers who can fulfil the need to move from subsistence-based to a market-based agriculture.


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.