Published 4 December 2023


What are NDFs? A vital tool for the future of sustainable trade in wild species

NDFs (Non-Detriment Findings) is a term that had multiple mentions at the recent CITES Standing Committee meetings (SC77), is often mentioned in reports, and is shared around national government authorities and other non-governmental organisations. But what do NDFs actually mean, how should they work, and how can their use ensure sustainable use in wild species trade?

What are they?     NDFs in action      NDF workshop in Nairobi      Related sustainability issues

The trade of CITES-listed species is only allowed if the Scientific Authority of the exporting Party, in the case of Appendix II species, and both the exporting and importing Parties in that of Appendix I species, have submitted a non-detriment finding (NDF).

Reliable NDFs are critical to the long-term sustainability of the Convention and are key to achieving some of the recommendations and targets set out by the IPBES report on the sustainable use of wild species, Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF) and, of course, CITES’ Strategic Vision.”

Paola Mosig Reidl, Co-Lead of Data, Research and Enforcement Support at TRAFFIC and contributor at upcoming NDF workshops.

Non-Detriment Findings – What are they?

A clue is in the name. A simple explanation could define NDFs as an analysis by a Scientific Authority that determines the export of a specified quantity of specimens of Appendix I and II -listed species will not affect their long-term survival in the wild. Where required, this then allows export and import permits to be granted by Management Authorities.

These act as a safeguarding mechanism to avoid the over-exploitation and unsustainable international trade of over 40000 species – roughly 6000 animal species and 34000 plant species.  

NDFs can also promote the sustainable trade in these species to conserve their wild populations while benefiting Indigenous People, Local Communities, and others in the supply chains. So, continual strengthening of these assessments is vital.

Since the beginning, NDFs have been core to CITES regulation, but they were not broken down into guiding principles until after  a workshop in 2008 and adopted by the Parties. However, it’s not as easy as a tick box-checking exercise; these can be fairly complex workflows. To help CITES Parties authorities understand how these work, especially for timber and plant species, TRAFFIC developed the 9-Step process for making science-based NDFs and accompanying courses.


NDFs in action

An NDF can often start with assessing limited data but identify the type of crucial harvest/trade data that should be gathered to strengthen an NDF as it is revisited.

TRAFFIC has flagged the critical role of people involved in species supply chains in informing NDFs. For example, when looking at sea cucumber NDFs, traders provide information on the number and sizes of dried individuals exported to the CITES Scientific Authority. At the end of a season, traders could give this vital information for monitoring stock health and checking on compliance with catch limits. 

Shark NDFs 

Shark trade in CITES-listed species and concerns around the lack of their correct implementation, especially in Ecuador and Peru and for the long-term listed Oceanic White Tip shark, was a significant discussion at the latest CITES Standing Committee in November 2023. More prominent as just a year earlier, in a landmark decision at COP19, 104 shark and ray species were added to CITES Appendix II many because the trade of fins and other parts of the species is difficult to distinguish from others that are already severely threatened with unsustainable trade.

Yet, as found in TRAFFIC's review Missing Sharks, implementation challenges for already CITES-listed sharks and rays underline the importance of helping authorities strengthen their understanding and the transparency and availability of information to produce and monitor the trade through NDFs.

Positive Progress

TRAFFIC continues collaborating with the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), earlier developing guidance on conducting NDFs for sharks and rays.  Positively, just before SC77, Australia used this guidance, which has been translated into an online format by Blue Resources Trust (new-style e-NDF) to draft NDFs for the newly listed sharks and openly shared this for feedback.

Timber NDFs

A prime topic at CITES 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP19) and subsequently at SC77, NDFs for CITES-listed tree species are crucial to ensure that the trade does not negatively impact such a vital ecosystem for both wild species and people.

At SC77, many Parties received warnings about Article XIII compliance matters, including countries with trade in CITES-listed timber species. In particular, West African Rosewood range States need to be seen to get compliance matters under control, including tailoring these NDFs to suit the specific species and context. 

CITES Secretariat and TRAFFIC are collaborating to compile available information about rosewood species for Scientific Authorities when developing NDFs. With BfN, TRAFFIC continues to enhance the 9-Step process for developing scientifically-based NDFs for CITES-listed timber species. TRAFFIC encourages the West African range States to actively utilise this information to implement and comply with the Convention effectively.

NDF workshop in Nairobi

Workshop Information

Today, around 200 participants will attend an NDF workshop in Nairobi where TRAFFIC experts will join the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and will share guidance during thematic/species-specific working groups.

On the first day, TRAFFIC and BfN will demonstrate the 9-step guidance and the online training course and how this can be applied to the new guidance refined at the workshop. This will also include the latest updates and ongoing improvements to make the platform user-friendly and supportive of context-driven findings. 

Germany, the European Union and Switzerland are making funding available to help develop new or updated NDF guidance, including support for an international expert workshop to consider draft guidance produced by workstream expert groups focusing on eleven different issues:

  1. Generic NDF guidance
  2. Applying adaptive management and NDFs subject to precautionary conditions
  3. Incorporation of different knowledge systems (e.g., traditional, local, etc) into NDFs
  4. NDFs for Appendix I imports
  5. NDFs for marine and aquatic species
  6. NDFs for migratory species
  7. NDFs for terrestrial invertebrates
  8. NDFs for birds
  9. NDFs for high-value timbers
  10. NDFs for medicinal, ornamental, and aromatic plants
  11. NDFs for reptiles, including live specimens and leather

Related sustainability issues

Strategic Vision

Like NDFs, making sure and monitoring the sustainability of wild species trade is vital to ensure Parties are then only harvesting what the species population can deal with to avoid threatening their survival in the wild.

CITES Strategic Vision aims to align the workings of the Convention with other international biodiversity commitments, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity’s KMGBF. The KMGBF has a plethora of indicators to measure progress towards its goals to halt biodiversity decline by 2030 and increase species numbers by 2050. As discussed at SC77, Parties are concerned that these indicators need much more work and funding.

TRAFFIC is a founding member of the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management and, alongside other partners, can also advise both conventions in the development and implementation of these indicators.

Ensuring Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are core to context

Arguably, after the ecosystem, marginalised communities stand to lose the most if species they use for vital sources of food and income cease to exist due to biodiversity loss. A lack of robust NDFs could accelerate that loss, which can have severe impacts on the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

Yet, as custodians of the resources, communities can play a critical role in safeguarding legal and sustainable harvesting, use, management, and trade of wild species. They also act as a crucial intervention point for preventing illegal wildlife commodities from entering the supply chain.

In line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, TRAFFIC pays particular attention to gender equality, women’s empowerment, youth, and the full and effective participation of indigenous people and local communities. That is why, at SC77, TRAFFIC called for clarity and consistency in the language used in CITES Resolutions and Decisions for closer alignment and collaboration with the related work of other global environmental agreements and ensure that trade in wild species is legal and sustainable, for the benefit of the planet and people.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Find out more here.