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The agrarian conditions and the low relative levels of the socioeconomic indicators cause the area of the “High Jequitinhonha Valley”, in the northeast of the State of Minas Gerais, to be considered one of the most complex areas of Brazil. For this reason several governanmental administrations have recommended rural development programs. Most of these efforts, however, have not produced adequate results. This article analyzes the relationships between public programs and family farming, making a survey of the methods and results of the last three decades. It concludes that there is a need to incorporate the specificities of history, environment and culture into the rural programs. It is suggested that the programs take into consideration the experience accumulated by the regional organizations and be adjusted to the interest and culture of the local family producers.