Soil fertility is defined in terms of the ability of the soil to maximize plant productivity, often within economic constraints. A decline in natural soil fertility seems to have occurred over all civilizations. Overgrazing and deforestation are the two most important factors affecting global soil degradation. Nutrient losses from agricultural systems are broadly divided into losses through volatilization, losses from leaching, losses due to product removal, losses to non-labile soil pools and losses from various forms of erosion. Rapid declines in soil fertility are associated with large demands for food due to expanding population, nutrient mining of agricultural areas with concomitant shifts of produce to cities, and intensification of agricultural activities without proper regard for long-term maintenance of fertility by application of fertilizers, recycling of organic wastes, liming to combat acidification, fallowing, rotations and prevention of large scale soil erosion. Agricultural policy has often encouraged soil fertility decline and soil degradation. In the future, agricultural scientists must have major inputs into the development and implementation of policy. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1–800–342–9678. E-mail address: [email protected]]