With environmental change set to affect the developing world in significant ways, examination of the process of adaptation is increasingly being brought to the fore. Common to all forms of adaptation in rural livelihoods will be a process of change in resource use and the resource rights that will either facilitate or subvert adaptation. This paper looks at Darfur and the repercussions from the multi-year drought and land degradation that led to forms of adaptation that involved change in relationships between groups over land resources. The analysis looks at how changes in land resource rights relationships have been dealt with historically, as adaptation developed. Approaches involving highly flexible customary institutions were used to effectively manage the change in land resource rights relationships inherent in adaptation, and considerable opportunity existed for positive interaction between customary and statutory law. Initial success at adaptation was followed by interventions by the Sudanese government to manage these relationships for specific objectives that worked against adaptation. This resulted in competition, animosity, confrontation and the subsequent collapse of the institutions, legitimacy, and trust necessary for successful management of land resource rights change. These national policies debilitated the adaptation opportunities and instead led to profoundly negative repercussions in relationships about land in Darfur, eventually becoming a primary driver in the current war. This highlights both the importance of land resource rights relationships to adaptation and how these relationships can be changed (positively and negatively) by specific practices and policies.