This paper applies a framework for understanding adaptation to an intervention in coastal Sri Lanka. Adaptation is described in terms of different components that, in combination, can address current vulnerability and the uncertainty inherent in climate predictions. In Sri Lanka, temperature increase, sea-level rise and the failure of irrigation systems are all contributing to the increasing salinity of small-scale farmers' rice paddies. The community-based adaptation activities reviewed here aimed to reintroduce traditional rice varieties to restore yields following the failure of fertilizer-dependent hybrid varieties and neglect by formal research institutions. Crucially, farmers themselves led variety-selection research, rebuilding their ability to experiment, thereby addressing the immediate problem of crop failure and providing the capacity to adapt to future environmental change.