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)

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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RECOFTC: Center for People and Forests

01.12.2013 - 30.09.2018

Deforestation and forest degradation are threatening the livelihoods of the rural poor in the Mekong region. Community forestry has proven to be a sustainable way to improve  forest management, strengthen local livelihoods, and mitigate impacts of climate change. SDC supports RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests to promote community forestry throughout the Mekong region through a core contribution.

Access to Health Services: Three Millennium Development Goals Fund

01.12.2013 - 30.06.2018

After 50 years of military dictatorship and 60 years of civil conflict, Myanmar has started a political, social and economic reform in 2011. Still, the health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are unlikely to be met without a significant increase in health services for the most vulnerable. SDC will thus contribute to the multi-donor 3 MDG Fund, to address the essential health needs of poor and vulnerable women, children and people with HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Myanmar.


01.11.2013 - 31.05.2018

Since 2007, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has supported the Lao government to improve its management of social and economic data. SDC seeks to enable policy makers to make better-informed decisions by making reliable data more readily available, contributing to equitable development.

Population and Housing Census of Myanmar 2014

01.10.2013 - 31.12.2017

No census has been conducted in Myanmar since 1983, and then the conflict areas were not included. As a result, the new Government and partners including Switzerland lack essential data for planning, monitoring and evaluating reforms and programmes. The successful implementation of the 2014 Population and Housing Census would fill that important gap.

Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS)

01.08.2013 - 31.12.2017

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is supporting the Lao Government’s agriculture and food security programs since more than a decade.

Cambodian Horticulture Project Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN)

01.06.2013 - 30.06.2018

90 % of the poor in Cambodia live in rural areas and more than 40 % of the rural poor suffer from food insecurity. The increasing market demand for vegetable and fruits provides a huge opportunity for small holder farmers and processors, in particular women to increase income and food security. The Cambodia Horticulture project will support female and male farmers and processors in increasing sustainable production, income and resilience in four of the poorest provinces of Cambodia.

Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG)

01.05.2013 - 31.12.2018

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been supporting the Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) project in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) since April 2014.

Vocational Education and Training Laos (VELA)

01.01.2013 - 31.08.2018

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supports a reform of technical and vocational education and training in Lao PDR to ensure that Lao youth—particularly from marginalized groups—have access to quality education, can obtain a high level of skills, and can find and keep well-paid jobs.

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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.