Until last month, the future of the Business Development Managers (BDM) programme - launched in 2007 as part of the London mayor's food strategy - was hanging in the balance.
This is because the Greater London Authority (GLA)-funded programme - which aims to increase the supply of local, regional and sustainable food into the capital by employing BDMs to build relationships between market traders and growers - has guaranteed funding for only three years.
However, the GLA, despite being under pressure to cut costs, has agreed to fund the £220,000-a-year programme until March 2012.
Meanwhile, Defra has also made the future of the scheme look promising by agreeing to fund a six-month feasibility study into the future of the programme.
It is assessing how the scheme could be rolled out nationwide following a recommendation made last year by its Fruit and Vegetable Task Force.
The scheme currently operates out of New Covent Garden Market, Western International Market and New Spitalfields Market. It is also set to operate from Billingsgate market after receiving funding from the European Fisheries Fund.
The extra £575,000 needed to fund the scheme nationally and beyond 2011 could potentially come from supermarkets, a levy system, EU funding, or Government schemes and local enterprise partnerships.
Defra's interest in the scheme prompted representatives from New Spitalfields and the GLA to host a tour of the market for Agriculture Minister Jim Paice so that he could see the scheme in action and hear from traders about the benefits of the BDM programme.
Rosie Boycott, chair of the London Food Board, which advises the mayor, said at the event: "Until this scheme was put in place many smaller producers had been steadily squeezed out of wholesale markets - it was just not worth their while to get small quantities of stuff out to places like this. But we have been able to develop the programme because of the momentum we have developed across all of the markets. We always have had this vision, but it's taken some time to become a reality."
Last year, the Business Development Managers project:
- Provided business development support to 184 fresh produce companies, mostly producers and wholesalers.
- Found that 85 per cent of companies it advised said the support they received from the project helped to create or safeguard employment.
- Created 51 additional private-sector jobs at a cost of £4,588 a job.
- Made a collective additional turnover from businesses involved in the scheme of £10,147,140.