Abstract There is an increasing global need for enhancing the food production to meet the needs of the fast-growing human population. Traditional approach to increasing agricultural productivity through high inputs of chemical nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers and pesticides is not sustainable because of high costs and concerns about global warming, environmental pollution, and safety concerns. Therefore, the use of naturally occurring soil microbes for increasing productivity of food crops is an attractive eco-friendly, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. There is a vast body of published literature on microbial symbiotic and nonsymbiotic nitrogen fixation, multiple beneficial mechanisms used by plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), the nature and significance of mycorrhiza-plant symbiosis, and the growing technology on production of efficacious microbial inoculants. These areas are briefly reviewed here. The construction of an inoculant with a consortium of microbes with multiple beneficial functions such as N2 fixation, biocontrol, phosphate solubilization, and other plant growth-promoting properties is a positive new development in this area in that a single inoculant can be used effectively for increasing the productivity of a broad spectrum of crops including legumes, cereals, vegetables, and grasses. Such a polymicrobial inoculant containing several microorganisms for each major function involved in promoting the plant growth and productivity gives it greater stability and wider applications for a range of major crops. Intensifying research in this area leading to further advances in our understanding of biochemical/molecular mechanisms involved in plant–microbe–soil interactions coupled with rapid advances in the genomics–proteomics of beneficial microbes should lead to the design and development of inoculants with greater efficacy for increasing the productivity of a wide range of crops.