Effective adaptation to climate change and variability is contingent on the perceptions of farmers and the ability of policy makers to merge these with scientific knowledge systems. The study examined the differentiated knowledge, experiences and perceptions of small traditional farmers and modern commercial farmers and their adaptation influences using qualitative interviews. Farmers generally have very clear ideas of the trends in the parameters of climate change as they relate to farm productivity and other livelihoods. Commercial farmers had a better understanding of the science of climate change, but small farmers presented a localised explanation of observed climate changes. Non-climate factors influenced adaptation of both groups of farmers. The capacities of small farmers are lower than their commercial counterparts, but the risks associated with commercial farming are much higher owing to higher investments in uncertain physical and economic conditions. Differentiated policies are needed at climate proofing the investments and efforts of farmers.