In much of sub-Saharan Africa, considerable research exists on the impacts of climate change on social-ecological systems. Recent adaptation studies emphasize sectoral vulnerability and largely physical adaptation strategies that mirror anti-desertification plans. The adaptive role of subsistence farmers, the vulnerable 'target' population, is largely overlooked. This article aims to fill this gap by putting the views from the vulnerable in the center of the analysis. Drawing from participatory risk ranking and scoring among smallholders in central Senegal, data on multiple hazards indicate that farmers' adaptive capacity to climate change is undermined by poor health, rural unemployment, and inadequate village infrastructure. Results from conceptual mapping reveal incomplete understanding of causes and consequences of climate change. Yet, shared knowledge and lessons learned from previous climatic stresses provide vital entry points for social learning and enhanced adaptive capacity to both wetter and drier periods now and in the future. ?? 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.