Byline: Diego Pereira Lindoso (1), Juliana Dalboni Rocha (1), Nathan Debortoli (1), Izabel Ibiapina Parente (2), Flavio Eiro (3), Marcel Bursztyn (1), Saulo Rodrigues-Filho (1) Abstract: Smallholder farming is among the most vulnerable sectors due to its great social and economic sensitivity. Despite future climate change, current climate variability is already an issue of concern that justifies adaptation efforts. In Brazil, the Semi-Arid Region is a climate hotspot, well known for both historic socioeconomic setbacks, and agriculture failures caused by dry spells and severe droughts. In 2010, the Brazilian government enacted the National Policy on Climate Change, which states as one of its key goals the identification of vulnerabilities and the adoption of adequate measures of adaptation to climate change. The improvement of vulnerability assessment tools is a response to the growing demand of decision makers for regular information and indicators with high spatial and temporal resolution. This article aims at undertaking a comparative assessment of smallholder farming's vulnerability to droughts. An integrated assessment system has been developed and applied to seven municipalities located in the Brazilian Semi-Arid Region (within the State of Ceara). Results show regional vulnerability contrasts driven by institutional and socioeconomic factors, beyond climatic stressors. Author Affiliation: (1) Center for Sustainable Development, University of Brasilia, Campus Universitario Darcy Ribeiro - Gleba A, Bloco C - Av. L3 Norte, Asa Norte, Brasilia, DF, 70904-970, Brazil (2) Anthropology Department, University of Brasilia, ICC Centro - Sobreloja - B1 347 - Asa Norte, Brasilia, DF, 70910-900, Brazil (3) Centre Maurice Halbwachs, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, ERIS-CMH, 48 boulevard Jourdan, Paris, 75014 , France Article History: Registration Date: 17/03/2014 Received Date: 20/05/2011 Accepted Date: 15/03/2014 Online Date: 08/04/2014 Article note: This article is part of a Special Issue on "Climate change and adaptation in tropical basins" edited by Pierre Girard, Craig Hutton, and Jean-Phillipe Boulanger. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1116-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.