MULTAN - The mealy bug attack on cotton crop has further intensified in Punjab as the average of its hot spots has soared to 12.04 per cent in current week compared to 5.20 per cent during the corresponding week last year, disclosed a recent pest scouting report compiled by Directorate General of Pest Warning Punjab here on Tuesday. Punjab is likely to miss the target of 11 million bales this year due to severe attack of mealy bug and other pests, about six per cent cut in cotton sowing area, shortage of irrigation water and non-availability of pesticides due to strike of Pakistan Crop Protection Association. "Cotton crop is under crisis. This is the time for taking appropriate steps to save cotton, which is the backbone of the Pakistan economy," said Syed Fakhar Imam, a progressive grower and former speaker of National Assembly while talking to The Nation. Mealy Bug, declared a potential threat to cotton by the Cotton Review Committee, ruined 17 per cent of total national crop last year. Resultantly, the country missed the target of 14.10 million bales and could get merely 11.66 million bales.  The report pointed out that the mealy bug spots registered about five per cent increase in just one week. "This increase in span of infestation of the pest as compared to last year is due to more area under early sown cotton," the report added and hurled a warning: "Weather and ambience is congenial for its population so it is predicted that its population may increase in next week." The national economy hugely depends on cotton as it accounts for about 60 per cent of country's export earnings. The Punjab province produces about three-fourths of total national seed cotton crop and its destruction in this province means massive loss to national economy. The report identified Kahror Pakka as the most affected area by mealy bug attack where the infestation is 49.1 per cent followed by Dunyapur with 40.0 per cent, Mian Channu 37.5 per cent, Lodhran 30.2 per cent, Burewala, 28.0 per cent, Multan 23.3 per cent, Mailsi 22.2 per cent, Rojhan 22.0 per cent, Khanewal 22.0 per cent, Sadiqabad 20.8 per cent, Chichwatni 20.5 per cent, Pakpattan 20.0 per cent, Rajan Pur 19.1 per cent, Jahanian 17.5 per cent, Sahiwal 15.6 per cent, Shujabad 15.0 per cent, Liaqatpur 15.0 per cent, Vehari 14.9 per cent, Kabirwala 14.0 per cent, Jampur 13.0 per cent, Kot Addu 13.0 per cent, Chishtian 12.9pc, Arifwala 12.5 per cent, Okara 12.0pc and Bahawalpur 12.0 per cent. The ratio of hot spots in other districts of Punjab is below 10pc.    Giving details of mealy bug attack, a cotton grower Malik Muzaffar informed this scribe that the intensity of mealy bug attack was very high. "We're highly frightened. It appears as if mealy bug and white fly will completely destroy our crop," he added. He lamented that the government failed to introduce any successful check of mealy bug. Talking to The Nation, Naem Malghani, Project Officer, CABI South Asia, disclosed that his organization had launched a project with the collaboration of Pakistan government to check mealy bug through biological means. "We're rearing mealy bug predators (Cryptolaemus Montrouzieri), which were brought from California. We're going to give them to the cotton growers on experimental basis," he disclosed and expressed his hope they these predators would prove a successful control of mealy bug. "Mealy bug attacks the stem, leaves and twigs of cotton plan and sucks sap. Though the attack mostly occurs on branches, it is also noted at the roots," Dr. M. Naveed, head of Entomology Section, Central Cotton Research Institute, told this scribe. He suggested to the farmers to carry out regular inspection of their crop to check mealy bug attack. "The nymphs and adults of cotton mealy bug should carefully be uprooted, all weeds be eradicated and buried deep," he added.