This paper examines the success of small-scale farming livelihoods in adapting to climate variability and change. We represent adaptation actions as choices within a response space that includes coping but also longer-term adaptation actions, and define success as those actions which promote system resilience, promote legitimate institutional change, and hence generate and sustain collective action. We explore data on social responses from four regions across South Africa and Mozambique facing a variety of climate risks. The analysis suggests that some collective adaptation actions enhance livelihood resilience to climate change and variability but others have negative spillover effects to other scales. Any assessment of successful adaptation is, however, constrained by the scale of analysis in terms of the temporal and spatial boundaries on the system being investigated. In addition, the diversity of mechanisms by which rural communities in southern Africa adapt to risks suggests that external interventions to assist adaptation will need to be sensitive to the location-specific nature of adaptation.
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