Support for the development of farmers' markets is included under the village renewal and development measure in Axis 3 of Rural Development Programme, Ireland, 2007-2013, which programme is operated by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. The aim of this measure is to provide appropriate small-scale infrastructure to enhance the economic and social attractiveness of villages, small towns and the surrounding countryside. The development of farmers' markets has received support across the country from the local action groups delivering the Leader programmes for 2000 to 2006 and is provided for under the new programme. The selection process for the local action groups to deliver the Leader-type measures under the new programme will commence shortly. I understand that funding to networks of producers to market, promote and advertise themselves and their markets at local level is currently provided under the Leader programme.
There are now something like under 130 markets in Ireland today, a number that has grown from a very small base over the past five years. Bord Bia estimates that the farmers' market system has an annual turnover of €28 million and, clearly, there is potential for the system to grow its share of the Irish food market in coming years.
The Government is committed to supporting local and regional food and both Towards 2016 and my Department's Agri-Vision 2015 action plan include measures in this regard. One of our commitments under the programme for Government is the encouragement of more direct selling from farmer to customer by restoring and promoting a national network of farmers' markets. In this context, my ministerial colleagues and I have participated at events such as launches of new markets to champion the scope of this route to market for the overall benefit of our food industry and our local communities.
Bord Bia, which operates under the aegis of my Department, works closely with other State and local agencies to exploit the growing opportunities for farmers' markets, recognising their current and future importance as an opportunity for direct selling by farmers and food entrepreneurs.
Bord Bia has supported and will continue to support these markets through relevant advice and information, which is now available on its new small business website, www.bordbiavantage.ie, and through the development and implementation of nationwide marketing campaigns.
The main vehicle for farmers' market marketing in Ireland this year was Bord Bia's sponsorship of "Fresh from the Farmer's Market", an eight-part television series shown on RTE 1 between April and June 2007. This programme featured markets and producers throughout the country and achieved strong viewer ratings throughout the series. The programme has now been sold to other television networks overseas, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and has been shown on flights inbound from the US. This has helped to showcase the strong and vibrant farmers' market network in Ireland and indeed highlights one of the many wonderful food tourism attractions of Ireland, the food island. In addition, it has assisted in driving consumer traffic into farmers' markets — both domestic traffic and traffic from tourists. Given the positive response to the first series, a second series is currently in production and will be shown in April 2008. Bord Bia is the main sponsor of the show, strengthening this marketing platform.
My Department is also currently surveying every known farmers' market in the country to ascertain and compile a detailed database of statistics. This information will then be used to guide Government policy at both local and national level for farmers' markets going forward. We are also looking at international examples in order to import some strong ideas and structures that will work for the already blossoming farmers' market system in Ireland.