Malnutrition is a major problem in East Africa and animal source foods could provide
essential protein and micronutrients to help alleviate this. The livestock sector is rapidly
growing and intensifying in response to increased consumer demand for animal source
foods. However, the ability of the livestock sector to contribute to improving nutritional
security is constrained by a number of factors, including contaminants in animal source
foods and feeds. Globally, mycotoxins (especially aflatoxins) are the most important
contaminants of livestock feed. Aflatoxins are produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus
and related species, which occur naturally in soils throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They
are toxic to humans, fish and many other animals, even in low concentrations.
Susceptibility to aflatoxins varies by age, health status, species and other factors. Most
research has focused on aflatoxins in maize or groundnuts and their impacts on human
health. However, aflatoxins are found in other foods and can also impair livestock
productivity, reducing the availability of nutritious foods and the income of smallholder
farmers. Aflatoxins are also transferred into animal source foods, which could harm
consumers. The objective of this review was to synthesize information on the impact of
aflatoxins on livestock health and productivity, with a special focus on reports from East
Africa. A systematic literature review identified 2700 abstracts in 23 databases. Of these,
46 articles were relevant to the review objective and available. This review summarises
key data on impacts of aflatoxins in animal health and levels of aflatoxins in animal
source foods. The studies and surveys suggest that aflatoxins may be a significant risk to
livestock productivity and food safety in East Africa. Impacts are likely to worsen as
livestock industries intensify in response to the growing demand for animal source foods.
Climate change may also aggravate aflatoxin problems. In light of this challenge, this
review identifies major research gaps and discuss the way forward.