Don’t panic. The country has sufficient food supplies.Experts say the empty food shelves you have been observing at your local supermarket reflect panicky consumers stockpiling rather than disrupted food supply chains.Local shoppers have reported that shelves that were full now have scattered stock. Supplies of fresh produce, baking items, meat, canned food and grains are some of the items that have topped the shortages list.On Friday, Weekend Witness canvassed supermarkets, some of which were not in an immediate position to give comment.Woolworths at Cascades Shopping Centre on Friday had no green, yellow or red peppers in sight. There were also no potatoes in the vegetable isle. Half the shelves were emptied of meat. The Checkers at Cascades did not have cocoa powder, popcorn seeds, oats and cornflakes house brands.Commenting on The Witness Facebook page, Shallaine Naidoo said: “Meat is limited at the shops, we don’t find what we want, sometimes you wonder if the shops are doing it intentionally. “The price of meat is now unbelievable, when you are buying meat packs you only find off-cuts underneath which you have to throw away. So, I wonder if the consumer watch sees all of this. There is so much of poverty out there, but our stores are crippling our people.”Sachin Thirbany said: “Fresh vegetables, ginger and garlic is hard to find and if you do, its R150 a kilogram. Yeast also seems to be a problem.”Another reader, Cindy Lisa, noted that she could not find basil pesto. “I’ve tried to order it every week since lockdown started, there’s never stock,” she said.However, Gwarega Mangozhe, chief executive of the consumer goods council of South Africa, said there were no current concerns about food shortages. “The consumer goods manufacturing and food supply chain is robust and continues to operate even under the current lockdown conditions. “The government ensured that food production is not affected by the national lockdown by designating it as an essential service,” Mangozhe said.In contrast to what local consumers said they had observed, he maintained retailers had not experienced any disruption or delays in the distribution of fresh produce and other foods to supermarkets.AgriSA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede also assured the public that there was no food scarcity.“The agricultural sector is working with the government to prioritise and guarantee the supply of fresh and essential agricultural products. Value chains that supply the products daily have the necessary precautions in place to protect workers and to keep supplies moving ...”Mandy Hogan, Spar Group company secretary said: “The Spar Group’s highly efficient management of its supply chain and the herculean efforts by our store owners to match supply to demand under trying conditions, often at very short notice, has ensured that any disruptions at our stores have been extremely limited and of short duration.”Woolworths and the Shoprite group did not respond to a media queries sent by Weekend Witness.FOOD SUPPLY PROBLEMS TO HIT SMESAccording to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), evidence suggests that the impact of Covid-19 on food supply chains in developing countries will be felt widely, but evenly.In a blog this month, the IFPRI said: “Farm operations may be spared the worst, while small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in urban areas will face significant problems.“Governments will have to develop policies to respond to these varied impacts to avoid supply chain disruptions, higher food prices, and severe economic fallout for millions of employees,” it added.Meanwhile, The Africa Report said that food supply was expected to normalise after an unprecedented demand. The Centre of Excellence in Food Security at the University of Pretoria said: “South Africa is a surplus producer of food, and the value of the country’s food exports exceeds imports by a significant margin.”The centre noted that while food is secure at national level, the situation at household level remains dire, with food shortages and hunger still a matter for serious concern.