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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UN Joint Programme on Youth Employment

01.01.2024 - 31.12.2028

Cambodia is the most youthful country in South East Asia with more than 50% of the population below 25 years. The key challenge of Cambodia is to create decent and productive employment opportunities for new entrants to the labour market. With its contribution, SDC addresses the challenge by enabling young people to have access to skills and quality education and employment whilst promoting rightful and decent working conditions.


Planned project

Hospitality Skills Development Laos

01.11.2021 - 31.12.2025

In Laos, tourism is the sector with the highest potential to create jobs for the poor. SDC’s support will allow 20’000 youth to acquire the skills needed to work in hotels and restaurants. Dual Cooperative Training (apprenticeships) will provide for work place orientation of skills and facilitate an easy transition of trainees into full employment. Financial incentives will ensure that youth from poor families and SME hotels and restaurants profit from the project. Affirmative action mechanisms are applied so that at least 70% of trainees supported are women, mostly from ethnic minorities.


Planned project

Skills Development Program Cambodia

01.07.2020 - 31.12.2027

Skills development is a key driver for inclusive growth in Cambodia, but delivery is poor. Through the Skills Development Program, SDC supports the rural poor and disadvantaged youth in northern provinces to have better access to more gainful and decent employment through vocational and life skills and contributes to strengthening the TVET national regulatory framework for better inclusion, more effective delivery and higher relevance of vocational skills to labor market needs.


Mine Action for Human Development in Cambodia 2017- 2025

01.01.2020 - 31.12.2025

Over the past 20 years Cambodia has made significant progress in clearing landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). Nevertheless 1,640 km2 of land remain contaminated as suspected minefields at this moment. SDC plans supporting national and regional mine action initiatives to ensure that development of poor rural communities is no longer impeded by disablement and restricted access to land, forests and water resources due to landmines and ERW.


Support to SNDD Cambodia

01.04.2019 - 31.12.2022

SDC supports the third phase National Program for Sub-National Democratic Development (NP-SNDD) with a specific focus on the Implementation of Social Accountability Framework (ISAF) through a World Bank Trust Fund. The objective is to improve the performance of public service providers (primary schools, health centers and communes) with improved transparency, strengthened citizen engagement and government’s responsive actions



Regional Economic Development Program, Cambodia

01.01.2019 - 30.09.2021

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.


Fondation Kantha Bopha – Dr med. Beat Richner

01.01.2019 - 31.12.2021

25 years of Dr Richner’s tireless efforts resulted in millions of children receiving free quality medical care at Kantha Bopha Hospitals. Despite his retirement early 2017, the five hospitals are operating smoothly with the management model he set up and the commitment of the Royal Government of Cambodia to maintain it. SDC’s financial support remains crucial until a sustainable Cambodian financing is found.


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

01.08.2018 - 30.06.2021

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.


Lao DECIDE Info

01.06.2018 - 30.06.2021

In Lao PDR, the lack of integrated information and data analysis across thematic sectors continues hindering sustainable planning and decision-making. Lao DECIDE Info has fostered the integration of information from different sectors, data analysis, and development of new policy knowledge for decision making. The final phase 4, will seek for strategic engagement with decision makers, involving them in the identification of key policy issues, development of knowledge products, and incorporation of the knowledge products into national policies.


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.

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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.