He moved to Nairobi, Kenya as a young man believing that this was the best place for his country’s economic potential.
However, life in the capital was difficult. Mr. Onyango was unable to afford to travel back home once a year to visit his family in Kisumu, in the west of Kenya.
He would travel at Christmas and pay 2,000 Kenyan Shillings ($18; PS13). He was also expected to bring goods, such as sugar.
The authorities imposed strict lockdown restrictions when the virus infected 2020 and Mr Onyango was left without work.
In Kenya, the government paid no salaries to the people who lost their jobs in the pandemic. He says, “There wasn’t anywhere to get money to rent or to feed my family.”
He saw no reason to stay in the city and decided to return to his village in July that year.
Mr Onyango said, “I was worried, but I gambled.” “At home, there were no rent, no electricity bills or water bills. This is in contrast to Nairobi, where everything was money-oriented.”
On 1.5 acres (0.6 ha) of land once owned by his grandfather, he began farming tomatoes and other local greens like African cabbage and African nightshade.
He sold the produce on to his neighbors and to vendors who would then take it to the local markets.
He tells me that the unexpected turn has been good, with birds chirping in the background while he talks to me on the telephone.
“The money that I get from what I do now is more than what I got for my work in Nairobi.”
“My oldest daughter is 16 years. They used to only see me once a year. Corona has been a blessing in my life.”
World Neighbors, an international charity for development, says that Mr Onyango’s experience is part a larger reverse migration trend that was triggered by the pandemic.
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Chris Macoloo is the director of Africa for Vidi-19.
“Most people were laid off, and because they lived from hand to mouth, couldn’t eat, couldn’t pay rent, and couldn’t send money home to their families.
“So many people migrated from the cities to rural areas.
He said that the countryside was a refuge for many.
“In Africa, we are children from two worlds. One leg is in the city, the other in the countryside. This was a great help because without it, they would have been in serious trouble.”
According to Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics, nearly 750,000 jobs were lost in Kenya in 2020.
According to a recent agency report, Covid containment measures had adverse effects on various economic sectors. Total employment, which excludes small-scale farming activities and pastoral activities, fell by 4.1% to 17.4 millions.
The Kenyan government had previously banned travel between large cities during the coronavirus lockdowns. This raised concerns about regional food security in areas where there is not much local produce.
Many of these internal migrants returned to rural areas to grow vegetables.
Pride is a matter of course
Geoffrey Barasa, another Kenyan, has left the city. The 46-year old used to have two jobs in Nairobi.
He worked as a casual worker in the city’s industrial areas. He also owned a small business that bought chicken parts from a market and sold them for a profit at his local shop.
After college, he moved to the city to be a young man. He said that it was a matter of pride to work in the city back then.
Mr. Barasa married and lived in Nairobi, Kenya with his wife and four children.
Everything fell apart when the first cases of coronavirus were reported in Kenya. He was fired from his job as a casual worker and had to close his chicken farm.
“At that time, there wasn’t any movement so I didn’t have enough customers to purchase my goods. “I was forced to close my shop and return to the village,” Mr Barasa says.
“That was a very difficult time for me.”
He decided to move his family from Busia County to Busia in September 2020. It is close to Lake Victoria.
He started farming tomatoes, pumpkins, millet and kale, and now sells them to the community. He also raises chickens and pigs.
“At first, I was worried about how I would spend my time at home. But now, I feel comfortable. I’m much more financially secure than I was when I was in Nairobi. I feel very at home back in the village.
Mr Barasa said he would encourage others to return home after the pandemic. “I cannot recommend them to go back into the city.”
According to Mr Macoloo the coronavirus pandemic has prompted Kenyans to reconsider what he refers to as “the myth that everything is rosy in the capital”.
“Post-election violence in 2007/08 saw many people return to the countryside to see if it was possible to survive.
He says, “But the election problems were resolved much faster and the economy was not closed in the same manner.”
“Once security had been restored, they were able to pick up the pieces.
He adds, “Nobody could have predicted the positive outcomes of the pandemic.”
“We didn’t expect it, but it came. I believe we should take advantage. There’s a silver lining to every cloud, according to the experts.