Since the mid-1990s, Northwest Mexico has been experiencing drought conditions. As Mexico’s number one irrigator, the state of Sonora’s agricultural sector is particularly concerned about the availability and distribution of surface and ground water. Drought has contributed to a sharp decline in cultivated area, the abandonment of land, and permanent out migration of a large sector of the rural population. This paper examines the vulnerability to drought of small farmers in the Santa Cruz and Magadalena basins, south of the Sonora-Arizona international border. Farmers’ ability to respond to drought is considered within the larger context of neoliberal reform policies, social inequality, and free trade between Mexico and the U.S. By focusing on the most vulnerable, the paper argues that informal social networks and collective organization are key strategies to improve adaptive capacity, particularly for those who do not have access to state sponsored adaptations.

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