INITIATIVES to tackle abuses in the use of agricultural land are expected to help generate more residential land to meet pressing housing demands. A government taskforce to be set up soon will identify possible farm sites for residential development as part of a package to clean up the countryside. Concerned about farmland being used for illegal dumps and open storage space, the Government is hoping for a timely solution to the problem and expects implementation of the taskforce's recommendations can begin by as early as 1995. Since changing the land use of such areas to allow residential development only involves modification of existing leases, it would not be considered as releasing new land as stated in Annex 3 of the Joint Declaration and therefore the land would not be counted within the annual 50 hectares land disposal limit. Legislative Councillors have been urging the Government to provide more land for private sector development to meet the pressing demand for housing. The Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Tony Eason, said that converting leases on farmland to allow residential development would help phase out environmental black spots. But he stressed that the taskforce would be looking at the sites on a case-by-case basis. ''We would have to use this selection to phase out the black spots,'' he said. ''But we can't possibly convert all of these areas into residential zoning. The infrastructural support that would be required would be phenomenal.'' There would still be a lot of land reserved for other purposes, including some areas for open storage and green-belt land. But it is hoped that changing designated land use would be an incentive to owners to seek proper planning for their fields, he said. An Agriculture and Fisheries Department spokesman said 50 per cent of Hong Kong's 8,200 hectares of agricultural land was lying fallow. In Yuen Long, with a total agricultural area of 3,540 hectares, 1,280 hectares are fallow. Under the Government's initial thinking, priority consideration for land-use change will be given in Yuen Long, where the abuse is at its worst. Mr Eason said the move was a way of securing more land. Under Annex 3 of the Joint Declaration, the annual disposal of new land cannot exceed 50 hectares unless agreed by the Sino-British Land Commission. Premiums generated from the modification of leases would still be equally split between the Government and the future Special Administrative Region government as required by the joint accord. Mr Eason said the 1991 Town Planning (Amendment) Ordinance had helped to contain the problem. ''We managed to stem the tide of abuses. In a sense, we got the sticking plaster. ''So far, I think it has been reasonably successful. But we are not complacent,'' he said. It is estimated that about 500 hectares of agricultural land was converted into open storage areas before the enactment of the amendment ordinance in 1991. Another 150 hectares were converted after the 1991 enactment date. They are considered as ''unauthorised developments'' where enforcement action will be required. Mr Eason said that although funding for setting up the taskforce was included in the 1994-95 resource allocation of his branch, he hoped to have a nucleus of the taskforce, formed by half a dozen people, before the next financial year. Other options to be considered by the taskforce could also include imposing conditions for removing some operations, possibly by finding better sites for them, and tougher controls.