Agricultural innovation is an essential component in the transition to more sustainable and resilient farming systems across the world. Innovations generally emerge from collective intelligence and action, but innovation systems are often poorly understood. This study explores the properties of innovation systems and their contribution to increased eco-efficiency in agriculture. Using aggregate data and econometric methods, the eco-efficiency of 79 countries was computed and a range of factors relating to research, extension, business and policy was examined. Despite data limitations, the analysis produced significant results. Extension plays an important role in improving the eco-efficiency of agriculture, while agricultural research, under current conditions, has a positive effect on eco-efficiency only in the case of less developed economies. These and other results suggest the importance of context-specific interventions rather than a one size fits all approach. Overall, the analysis illustrated the potential of a macro-level diagnostic approach for assessing the role of innovation systems for sustainability in agriculture. Acknowledgement : The authors would like to thank the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation for funding this research.