Aflatoxin contamination impinges on grain quality worldwide. The causative agent, Aspergillus spp. colonizes grain in the field down to postharvest stages in storage where they may produce toxins. Kenya has experienced recurring cases of aflatoxicosis in Eastern region especially during periods of maize grain deficit. The risk of chronic exposure has not been widely studied. Therefore, seasonal variation in abundance and species composition of toxigenic Aspergillus in maize and soils of Eastern Kenya was investigated. Samples were obtained from farmers, two months after the first (May) and second (December) harvest seasons. Aspergillus spp. were isolated from maize and soil samples by direct and dilution plate techniques respectively on Czapek Dox Agar (CZ) and thereafter sub-cultured on potato dextrose agar (PDA). Positive identification was done using culture-morphological and microscopic characteristics in PDA media. The ammonium vapour test was used to screen for the putative toxigenic strains. A total of 229 Aspergillus spp. cultures were obtained (55% -maize, 45% -soil). Eleven Aspergillus sp. were identified: Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus clavatus, Aspergillus awamori, Aspergillus parasiticus, Aspergillus ochraceus, Aspergillus candidus, Aspergillus ustus, Aspergillus niveus, Aspergillus terreus and Aspergillus wentii. Of these 41 (18 %) were potentially toxigenic while the rest were putatively atoxigenic. Out of the 41 toxigenic isolates, 22 were from maize. The first season had 15 (68.2%) toxigenic maize isolates while 7 (31.8%) were from the second season. Generally, there were more fungal isolates in the first season (54.1%) than the second one (45.9%) while Aspergillus niger was the most abundant in both seasons. Such variation in fungal abundance supports the hypothesis that aflatoxin contamination of grain may vary seasonally but that remains to be unravelled and herein, a contrary opinion was presented.
Key words: Aflatoxin, mycotoxin, Aspergillus, maize, soil.