Mekong Institute – Bridging Policies and Implementation

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Mekong Institute – Bridging Policies and Implementation
12 Apr 2022
ASEAN Identity and Community Building

In 2021, the Mekong Institute won the ASEAN Prize; a prestigious regional award conferred annually to a citizen or an organisation that has significantly contributed towards ASEAN community-building efforts.

The Work

The Mekong Institute plays the role of intermediary, bridging the divide between high-level policy and or translation of that policy on the ground. 

“We look at implementation issues, particularly cross-border issues, transboundary matters related to economic cooperation and integration,” Suriyan notes. “We do not set up our own broad policy. Policy has been given and a bigger map of what is supposed to happen in the sub-region. The issue is how we can bring this into operation, address implementation issues, and demonstrate the joint benefits. We also provide feedback to policymaking bodies on what issues and experiences (we encounter) so policy can be refined.”

The institute brings this intermediary role in three of its current priority areas—agricultural development and commercialisation, trade and investment facilitation, and sustainable energy and environment—and cross-cutting issues of labour mobility, social inclusion, and digitalisation. Its services range from capacity building to advisory services, research studies, policy dialogues, and partnerships and linkages.

Suriyan cites its recently completed project in one of the GMS economic corridors, the Regional and Local Economic Development in East-West Economic Corridor Project, to further demonstrate the institute’s work on the ground.

“The idea is that we have an economic corridor, and we want to promote agricultural products; but agricultural development should not only focus at the production level,” says Suriyan. “They (farmers) need to link to a market, have a business model. They need to know how they can prepare the produce in such a way that they meet the requirements of the market. And if the produce needs to be transported to other countries for processing, they need to understand cross-border mechanisms.”

This is where the Mekong Institute comes in. “For example, in Viet Nam, we helped farmers in Quang Tri province with their coffee production,” Suriyan says. The institute organised a series of activities, he says, to help farmers work out “how coffee will be processed, linked to a market,” and decide “whether the farmers should produce coffee or send the beans to another area, across to Thailand, to make some sort of coffee products.”  

If there were hiccups along the way, for example, in the cross-border arrangement, the institute would step in to determine what was stopping the transit of the products. Suriyan notes, “There are policies, but sometimes there are implementation issues. So, we work on them and see the process through until the final product arrives in the other country.”

Under the same project, the institute also assisted rice producers in Lao PDR. “Lao has a good variety of rice, but they don’t have good milling facilities,” Suriyan notes. “We helped them understand how to produce good rice that meets the requirements not only of food safety but also of quality. Oftentimes, rice is locally-milled and because of low technology, there is a high percentage of broken rice and humidity is not properly maintained. Then when you enter the market, the price (of rice) becomes very low.”

Suriyan says Mekong Institute’s work boils down to particular commodities in particular economic corridors.  The institute brings to bear its set of knowledge to help farmers improve their agricultural products and facilitate their integration into cross-border value chains. 

In addition to economic corridors, Suriyan says city development is the other entry point for the Mekong Institute to do its work.  “We ensure that all economic cooperation and integration measures are incorporated into city development (plans),” he notes. “If you look at the sub-region as a human body, cities are important organs and help link the economic corridors, which are the bloodlines.”