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 vulnerabil- ities 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 Ceará). Results show regional vulnerability contrasts driven by institutional and socioeconomic factors, beyond climatic stressors.