Mekong region (Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic)

Switzerland works to help build inclusive societies in the Mekong region, particularly in Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), by promoting equitable and sustainable development and democratic governance. To help support the rural populations, Switzerland carries out activities in local governance and citizen participation, agriculture and food security as well as vocational skills development and employment.

Despite average annual economic growth of 7% since the early 2000s, which has enabled Cambodia and Laos to achieve progress in reducing poverty, inequality is rising and is particularly affecting rural populations who continue to depend on agricultural production for their livelihoods. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major socio-economic crisis that is compounding existing challenges and pushing growing numbers of people below the poverty line. The most vulnerable groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and people living in remote areas, are the worst affected by an economic model built on the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources (large-scale agribusiness, hydroelectric mega projects). Cambodia and Lao PDR, still the poorest countries in South East Asia, are striving to meet significant challenges by driving social and environmental development, diversifying the economy and strengthening inclusive growth. Although the agreement setting up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic community entered into force in 2015, the disparities between the development levels of the poorest and more advanced countries in this region remain considerable and need to be reduced before ASEAN can emerge as a unified economic zone.

Switzerland has good, long-standing relations with countries in the Mekong region. In line with its 2018–21 regional cooperation strategy, Switzerland continues to work in Cambodia and Lao PDR while at the same time adopting a collaborative regional approach to address common development challenges with the support of specialised agencies active in the region. In 2016, Switzerland was given the status of ASEAN Sectoral Dialogue Partner, which enables it to work more closely with this major organisation in South East Asia.

Switzerland promotes gender equality, the inclusion of marginalised groups and non-discrimination in its programmes. It also includes climate change adaptation, disaster mitigation and risk reduction. A conflict-sensitive approach is essential, particularly in a post-conflict context such as Cambodia. 

According to an external evaluation  of the current programme for the period 2018–21, the results achieved so far are excellent: the most important development projects have for the most part met their targets and are able to deliver real improvements to people' lives and livelihoods.  The evaluation confirms that governments, civil society and other development partners highly value the SDC as a development partner. Strengths mentioned in the evaluation include the professionalism and technical expertise of the SDC and its partners, Switzerland's political impartiality and role as an honest broker, its flexibility and adaptability, and its ability to engage at regional, national and sub-national levels through long-term commitments. 

The cooperation programme for the Mekong region for the period 2018–21 will be followed by a cooperation programme for 2022–25 focusing on the following priority areas: a) inclusive economic growth, b) sustainable management of natural resources, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and c) good governance and the rule of law.

Agriculture and Food Security

Increasing income and food security for smallholders

Switzerland helps smallholder farmers diversify their products and access agricultural land, forests and means of production. In so doing, farmers can also increase their incomes by using more effective advisory services, fairer value chains and easier access to markets.

In Cambodia, 6,000 farmers, predominantly women, have increased their production and incomes thanks to a horticultural programme using a market development approach in collaboration with the private sector. In the northern highlands of Lao PDR, more than 250,000 households have benefited from projects implemented by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in rural regions with high levels of poverty. One of the SDC projects there made it possible to lower the high rate of malnutrition among the under-fives (44%).

Agriculture and food security

Local Governance and Citizen Participation

Decentralisation and capacity building

Switzerland helps women and men take part in public policymaking and investment, and demand accountability from the public administration for their activities. Citizens need effective social services, particularly for the most vulnerable groups such as women and ethnic minorities. In Cambodia, the SDC is supporting a decentralisation programme to reform and strengthen local government structures. Access to local social services in all of the country's 25 provinces and 197 districts is improving public satisfaction. Switzerland is also helping to fund hospitals in Kantha Bopha, which treat around 70% of all children living in Cambodia. In Lao PDR, around 1 million people – almost 75% of whom are from an ethnic minority and more than 50% of whom are women – have benefited from Switzerland's contribution to the World Bank-led Poverty Reduction Fund, which has built more than 2,270 public facilities such as schools, clinics and water supplies.

Advocacy and good governance

Employment and Vocational Skills Development

Improving access to employment

Switzerland develops projects to help rural people improve their skills and access the job market. In Cambodia, it supports a joint United Nations youth employment programme targeting three provinces where it aims to train 5,400 young people in mechanics, construction and tourism in collaboration with the private sector. In Lao PDR more than 2,500 young people from the countryside took courses in carpentry, tailoring, cookery, mechanics, electrics and farming in order to improve their employability and incomes.

Basic education and vocational skills development

Regional activities

With the aim of addressing cross-boarder challenges, Switzerland works together with regional institutions involved in water governance (the Mekong River Commission), access to customary rights on farming land and forests (RECOFTC) as well as skills development for migrant workers (PROMISE).

Partners

  • Swiss partners: Helvetas Intercooperation, Swisscontact, the Centre for Development and Environment (University of Bern), the Kantha Bopha Foundation, Swiss Red Cross
  • Ministries and provincial/district authorities
    Local and international NGOs: WWF, PIC, GIZ, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, OXFAM, PC Asia
  • Regional partners: International Organization for Migration (IOM), The Center for People and Forests, Mekong River Commission, Land Equity International
  • Bilateral donors: e.g. Germany, Nordic countries, EU  
    Multilateral organisations: e.g. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Organisation  for Migration, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Labour Organization (ILO)

Current projects

Object 13 – 22 of 22

Regional Economic Development Program, Cambodia

01.01.2019 - 31.03.2022

The Regional Economic Development (RED IV) program, co-financed by Switzerland and Germany, will be implemented in three north-western provinces of Cambodia. It aims at strengthening the capacity of sub-national and local governments to tackle economic development measures and supporting rural poor, in particular women, to increase their income and actively participate in local economic development, thereby reducing poverty of the rural population.


Remote sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging economies (RIICE) - Phase 3

01.08.2018 - 30.06.2022

Extreme weather events increasingly affect small-scale producers in Asia. Satellites and other information technologies present tremendous potential for improved country-wide monitoring of crop growth and insurance solutions for extreme weather events. With RIICE, SDC supports the integration of expertise from Swiss private actors and international public research centres toward modernizing public agricultural services and crop insurance programmes, offering performant solutions to Governments and producers to cope with production shortfalls.


Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) Phase 2

01.07.2018 - 31.12.2022

Land governance remains at the centre of development challenges in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV), and land expropriation is a key driver of new poverty and food insecurity. The governments in the region have begun to turn their attention to legal and policy issues on land governance. This creates an opportunity for MRLG and the Reform Actors it brings together, to contribute to improvements in policies and practices regarding land tenure security for family farmers.


UNited For Youth Employment in Cambodia

01.09.2017 - 29.02.2020

Youth in Cambodia, in particular new entrants to the labour market, face critical challenges in accessing decent and productive employment opportunities. They have limited access to relevant skills, quality education, entrepreneurship training, information about markets and labour rights. With SDC’s contribution, the UN joint programme will support young women and men to access to (self-) employment opportunities and decent jobs. 


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

01.08.2017 - 31.03.2021

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.


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

01.07.2017 - 30.04.2021

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.


Strengthening Research for Agriculture Policy Development

15.06.2017 - 31.12.2020

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.


Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF III), Phase 4

01.10.2016 - 30.06.2022

Since 2002, the Poverty Reduction Fund is a main programme in Lao PDR that effectively and efficiently delivers resources and public services, such as water supply, dispensaries, schools and village roads to the poorest villages in remote areas. PRF contributes to reduce rural poverty through enabling poor communities to assess their own needs and priorities through participatory mechanism and to determine how best to use resources to maximize their social and economic development.


Citizen Engagement for Good Governance, Accountability and the Rule of Law (CEGGA)

01.06.2016 - 31.03.2022

In Lao PDR, the space for citizens’ involvement in public affairs is a challenge, as the overall environment for the civil society is strongly controlled and not conducive. While the National Assembly (NA) is assuming a more assertive oversight and representative role, it still faces many constraints to function as an effective representative body. The new CEGGA Programme will provide more opportunities for Lao CSOs to engage in the country development processes, and to collaborate with the NA in bringing local experience, lessons learned and citizen’s voice to the NA. It will also strengthen the NA’s autonomous role, contributing to a greater formal division of power, and to engage more systematically with non-state actors as part of its deliberations on draft legislation.


SKILLS FOR TOURISM / Lao 029

01.12.2014 - 31.12.2021

In Laos, tourism is the sector with the highest potential to create jobs for the poor. Switzerland and Luxembourg join hands to allow 5’000 youth (by 2020) to acquire the skills needed to work in hotels and restaurants, at least 50% of them women, and 50% from poor families. Dual Cooperative Training (apprenticeships) will provide for work place orientation of skills and facilitate an easy transition of trainees into gainful employment, with salaries that move their families above the 2 US$/day international poverty line.

Object 13 – 22 of 22

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.