Six years ago, the Iranian Vegetable Oil Industry Association decided it was time to go into business – co-operative business. Under its association framework it was not legally allowed to go into business, only to act as a collaborator between the private sector and the government in Iran.

So, the association created The Iran Oilseeds & Vegetable Oil Processing Factories Co-operative or Farda, a cooperative whose members are vegetable oil producers and has its headquarters located in Tehran.

Members of Farda Coop have 93 per cent of the country total vegetable oil producing.

But Farda is just one piece of the story of the co-operative movement in Iran. Abolhassan Khalili, a co-founder and the managing director of Farda and a director of the global representative body for co-operatives The International Co-operative Alliance, says that the Iranian co-operative sector accounts for about six per cent of Iran’s gross domestic product. There are co-operative associations in every Iranian state.

That’s even more interesting when taken in the context of Iranian economy as a whole because the Iranian government has a target of 25 per cent of GDP being accounted for by co-operative businesses.

“At the same time that we were establishing a co-operative [Farda] the government started to increase the targets for GDP from the co-operative sector,” Khalili says.

Farda has been an enormously successful venture in Iran. Its 28 vegetable oil processing factory members have total membership of more than 10,000 individuals, which is not bad for a business which began in 2006 with only USD5000 from each member as start-up capital. Iran’s Co-operative Ministry has awarded Farda the outstanding co-operative of the year on two consecutive occasions care of its achievements.

Farda hasn’t stood still as its co-operative has generated surpluses. It has established a co-operative university in Iran which has about 1200 students. It has reinvested capital into its operations in establishing a transportation company which specifically transports vegetable oil. And in order to market the presence of the Iranian food industry it has established an exhibition company which holds various fares in and outside around the country. And it is a supporter of women with 41 per cent of its personnel, women.