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

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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.


LURAS - Lao Upland Rural Advisory Services

01.12.2021 - 30.11.2025

Laos is an agriculture-based country in transition. Farmers in the Northern region require additional knowledge, skills and access to resources to organize themselves within the ongoing agricultural socio-economic changes. Switzerland’s expertise in inclusive economic development, climate change and environment will support rural advisory services during this final phase to sustainably stimulate climate resilient and lasting improvements in agricultural production and income generation for these farmers.


PROMISE - Poverty Reduction Through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement in Cambodia, Laos PDR, Myanmar and Thailand

01.09.2021 - 31.08.2025

Labour migration is a key poverty reduction and economic development strategy for jobless people in the Mekong region. The last phase of this regional programme will focus on the sustainability and upscaling of support to migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to access skills development and decent employment in Thailand and when returning home. Switzerland addresses their needs with a regional approach together with the International Organisation for Migration, governments and the private sector by strengthening regional and national policies and systems.


Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PaFF): Support to Forestry and Fisheries Communities in Cambodia

01.07.2021 - 30.06.2023

The final phase of the Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries is implemented by four NonGovernmental Organisations led by the Center for Forests and People - RECOFTC. It will support rural communities in managing their natural resources in four provinces. With SDC`s contribution and inclusive development, the communities’ economic, social and cultural rights will be enhanced through funding opportunities that improve their livelihoods and increase resilience to natural shocks.  


Stimulating Participation and Civic Engagement

01.05.2021 - 31.12.2024

The project empowers Cambodian youth to engage in public life, while shifting negative norms and attitudes around youth participation. BBC Media Action creates inclusive on- and offline spaces for civic engagement, encourages a dialogue of youth and decision-makers and strengthens the provision of media for youth. Switzerland’s expertise in civic engagement will be coupled with BBC Media Action’s know-how in media production and complemented with outreach work by three local organisations.


Support to Parliamentary Centre of Asia

01.04.2021 - 31.12.2024

The Parliamentary Centre of Asia (PCAsia) builds the capacities of Parliaments in ASEAN countries in particular Cambodia and Laos plus Myanmar if the situation allows (CLM) to promote democratic accountability in the region. Complemented by the technical assistance of the Swiss Parliamentary Services (SPS), the Swiss contribution to PCAsia will support the capacity building of professional, non-partisan, ethical and accountable parliamentary services.


ESLR - Enhancing Systematic Land Registration

15.03.2021 - 30.09.2026

The absence of land use regulations enforcement and poor-quality land administration services have limited land tenure security of the Lao population, and have contributed to social tensions and poverty. Switzerland, with its long standing engagement in the land governance sector, will support the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s effort to accelerate systematic land registration, hence strengthening land tenure security of the Lao population, including the vulnerable groups, women and ethnic minorities.


Mekong River Commission (MRC) – Contribution to the basket fund for the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2021-2025

01.01.2021 - 31.12.2025

The Mekong River Commission is the only treaty-based intergovernmental organisation for the Mekong River Basin with a clear mandate for integrated water resources management, procedures and tools to support equitable use of water and address transboundary issues. Switzerland with its experience in water diplomacy and management contributes to the implementation of the new Basin Development Strategy (2021-2030) and Strategic Plan (2021-2025) through the multi-donor Basket Fund. 


CHAIN - Cambodian Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition

01.01.2021 - 31.12.2022

The last phase of the mandated Cambodian Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition Project will focus on sustainability and scalability of horticulture business models for farmers and businesses, supports quality extension services under the leadership of National and Provincial Agriculture Offices. Strengthened local market systems and improved water access for year-round safe vegetable production will increased income for 7,200 farmers and young migrants in four north-eastern provinces.


IWGP - Inclusive Water Governance Project in Mekong Region

01.10.2020 - 30.06.2024

Through this project, Switzerland will support civil society organisations, women and vulnerable communities to better influence water resource governance and decision-making processes at all levels in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. The Swiss knowhow in transboundary water governance and citizen participation shall leverage more inclusive, transparent and accountable infrastructure development that better responds to the needs of vulnerable riverine communities and improve their livelihood.


ENUFF - Enhancing Nutrition of Upland Farming Families

01.07.2020 - 30.06.2024

Despite a sustained economic growth of 7.7% over the last decade of Lao PDR, children under five, nationally, 21% are underweight, 33% are stunted and 9% wasted (2017). Based on initial achievements and lessons learned from phase one, Switzerland, with its leave no one behind value, will provide support for a second and final phase to the government­’s multi-sectoral approach that integrates agriculture, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene. The geographical scope expands to 20 new remote villages and targets women, men and children.


WFP/UNHAS common services for Southeast Asia during COVID-19

12.06.2020 - 31.12.2020

Contribution by two funding entities (Humanitarian Aid and South Cooperation) to support WFP/UNHAS in Southeast  Asia in the framework of the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan in terms of passenger services, light cargo and MEDEVAC. With passenger planes and air ambulances (air base: Subang/Kuala Lumpur) the freedom of movement of humanitarian and development workers as well as other supporters to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan who got into “land-locked” situations where no commercial capacity is available or possible to use is enhanced by WFP/UNHAS’ air or sea transport services. 

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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.