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.

In spite of the economic progression in Cambodia and Lao PDR since 2000, which enabled both countries to achieve progress in reducing poverty, inequality is rising. It is felt particularly for rural populations who continue to depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The most vulnerable groups – women, ethnic minorities and people living in remote regions – are also the worst affected. 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, 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. 

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, between 2013 and 2017 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
  • Ministries and provincial/district authorities
    Local and international NGOs: WWF, PIC, GIZ, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation
  • 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), World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Labour Organization (ILO)