Climate change creates widespread risks for food production. As climate impacts are often locally specific, it is imperative that large-scale initiatives to support smallholder farmers consider local priorities and integrate lessons from successful autonomous adaptation efforts. This article explores how large-scale programmes for smallholder adaptation to climate change might link effectively with community-led adaptation initiatives. Drawing on experiences in Bangladesh, Mozambique, Uganda and India, this article identifies key success factors and barriers for considering local priorities, capacities and lessons in large-scale adaptation programmes. It highlights the key roles of extension services and farmers' organizations as mechanisms for linking between national-level and community-level adaptation, and a range of other success factors which include participative and locally driven vulnerability assessments, tailoring of adaptation technologies to local contexts, mapping local institutions and working in partnership across institutions. Barriers include weak governance, gaps in the regulatory and policy environment, high opportunity costs, low literacy and underdeveloped markets. The article concludes that mainstreaming climate adaptation into large-scale agricultural initiatives requires not only integration of lessons from community-based adaptation, but also the building of inclusive governance to ensure smallholders can engage with those policies and processes affecting their vulnerability.