Rural societies in West Africa have long employed a variety of coping and adaptation strategies to periods of climate variability and risks. These strategies have mostly been shaped by prevail-ing indigenous knowledge systems and shared understandings of the underlying causes of cli-mate events. Despite the increasing scientific and policy attention to climate perceptions and integration of indigenous knowledge in climate change policy development and governance, there is still a lag in going further to probe and consider the socio-cultural and cognitive systems that shape local appreciation of climate change risks and responses. Based largely on qualitative interviews, and complementary household surveys, the paper draws on the concepts of ‘mental’ and ‘cognised’ models to examine drought and climate change risk perceptions and responses in the rural savannah of North-eastern Ghana. Local farmers generally allude to changes in rainfall patterns and prolonged intra-seasonal dry spells. Based on subscriptions to local models of blame in explaining climate risks and impacts, it is also seen that prevailing socio-cultural beliefs and understandings of environmental events tend to inform the responses of farmers in address-ing these perceived risks and impacts. The call is for ongoing policy processes to consider the complexity, different actors and context (socio-cultural, institutional, power structures) in enhancing sustainable adaptation and mitigation measures in vulnerable rural communities.