Differences in the vulnerability of soils to fertility degradation are compared for two major soil groups located in the coastal plain of Tanzania and cropped with sisal (Agave sisalana). Ferralsols derived from intermediate gneiss of Precambrian age and Cambisols developed in Jurassic and Neogene limestones partly covered with Quaternary deposits were selected for comparison. A clear influence of parent material was apparent when soils were continuously cropped with sisal and no fertilizers were applied. Serious soil fertility decline occurs in Ferralsols, but Cambisols are resilient to chemical degradation and the fertility decline in these soils was very limited. The differences in degradation rates are explained by the lower initial fertility and low nutrient reserve of Ferralsols, while the Cambisols had higher initial fertility levels and nutrients removed by the sisal crop are replenished by the weathering of the underlying parent material. Sustainable soil fertility management of Cambisols includes only NPK fertilization, but heavy dressings of lime, organic manures and/or chemical fertilizers are required to improve the fertility status of the Ferralsols and to produce crops in a sustainable manner.