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)

Current projects

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Lao Upland Rural Advisory Services (LURAS)

01.12.2017 - 30.11.2021

The rapid transformation of the rural economy brings smallholder farmers in contact with a wide range of new service providers (private agribusiness companies, farmer organisations, non-profit associations). The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) recognizes that greater pluralism in service provision is needed. LURAS supports a multi-stakeholder market-based approach to promote demand-driven service provision to farmers and strengthen the capacities of farmers’ organizations.


Cambodian Horticulture Project Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN)

01.12.2017 - 31.12.2020

The Cambodian Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN) programme is implemented by SNV and aims to develop and strengthen horticulture value chains in close collaboration with public and private sector actors in four least-developed provinces in the northeast of Cambodia. The SDC mandated programme supports poor, smallholder women and men farmers to increase their productivity and income and to improve food security, nutrition and climate resilience.


UNited For Youth Employment in Cambodia

01.09.2017 - 31.12.2019

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 - 31.08.2020

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.


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.


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.


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

01.07.2017 - 30.06.2020

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.


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.


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.


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.


Clearing for Result (CfR III): Mine Action for Human Development (2016-2019)

01.11.2016 - 31.12.2019

Although over the past 20 years Cambodia has cleared nationwide 1,412km2 of land from mines, an area of 1,640km2 still remains contaminated. Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) will clear over 27km² of heavily contaminated land ensuring safe access to productive land and improving poor rural communities’ livelihoods. SDC’s support to Cambodia’s mine action aligns with the Maputo Declaration 15+ commitment to declare Cambodia mine-free by 2025 and with the Swiss Humanitarian Mine Action Strategy (2016 – 2019).

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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.