Few places on earth demonstrate so dramatically the fundamental link between human and ecosystem wellbeing.

At the heart of the region

The Mekong River is a life-source to the 60 million people that live within the lower Mekong basin. Aquatic resources such as fish and molluscs account for 80% of the protein in the household diets, while the fisheries of the Mekong are estimated to be worth over US $2 billion per year. Representing almost 2% of the combined (freshwater and marine) global fish catch by weight, it is the largest inland fishery in the world.

The river system is home to a great cultural diversity, with more than 95 different ethnic groups living in the Mekong basin. In the lower basin, Khmer, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese people have depended upon the Mekong’s resources for thousands of years and the river forms an integral part of local culture.

Living in harmony with nature

The Greater Annamites is home to around 30 million people from 70 ethnic groups. The natural ecosystems within the Annamites provide local communities with food and water, natural resources to build from or trade, and an environment in which to practice centuries old customs.

For generations, people such as the Ruc and Khamu Rok in the upland areas have used forest resources sustainably and according to traditional custom. They have been taking only what they need, building houses and furniture from timber and bamboo, using grasses and rattan for weaving baskets and bags, and harvesting hundreds of plants for medicinal purposes.

Cultural diversity in the highlands

Six different ethnic groups inhabit Kayah-Karen Tenasserim, which largely spans the mountainous border between Thailand and Myanmar. The Akha, Hmong, Lu Mien, Karen, Lisu and Lahu each display traditions, beliefs, and dress codes that can be further subdivided based on religion and dialect.

These groups were traditionally migratory swidden farmers. However, these traditional dynamic farming systems have gradually disappeared leading to a sedentary agricultural lifestyle.

Healthy ecosystems equal community welbeing

In the Dry Forest of Cambodia and Thailand, over 80 % of the population are from minority ethnic groups such as the Jarai, Kraol, Phnong, Ro Oung, Stieng, Su, Oey, Kreung, and Tampuan, as well as Cham, Chinese, Khmer, Lao, and Vietnamese.

All of these groups have distinct customs and traditions, culture, language, and beliefs. They interact with the environment in a variety of ways, and utilize a variety of natural resources. The Phnong, for example, is the largest group and is heavily dependent on forest resources.

© WWF / Jeremy HOLDEN
Ka Tu woman
© WWF / Jeremy HOLDEN
© WWF Greater Mekong Programme
Women returning home with firewood at Pham Ba Thinh, Greater Annamites, Vietnam
© WWF Greater Mekong Programme
© Graham Baird / WWF Laos
Planting rice seedlings in the morning near Vientiane Capital, Laos.
© Graham Baird / WWF Laos

Living Mekong

Rattan chair being in Bolikhamxay Province, Laos
© Rattan chair being in Bolikhamxay Province, Laos
© Delphine Joseph © Delphine Joseph

  • Rattan is a non-timber forest product used across the region for food and trade
  • Village communities in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam rely on rattan for up to 50% of cash income
  • Rattan trade is a growing $4 billion global industry, the Greater Mekong has a chance to take a big share of this market if it sustainably manages it natural rattan stocks. Learn more...